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Iraq Urged to Lift Media Restrictions

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Iraq Urged to Lift Media Restrictions Empty Iraq Urged to Lift Media Restrictions

Post  Shilo on Mon Apr 12, 2010 12:21 pm

April 12, 2010

Rights groups say Iraq should amend its regulations on content, calling them “Vague, Susceptible to Abuse”

Media restrictions imposed by the Iraqi government have come under fire, with human rights groups calling for them to be lifted.

Human Rights Watch said the regulations should be revised to comply with international standards.

Iraq’s official Communication and Media Commission (CMC) began enforcing the regulations ahead of the parliamentary elections on March 7. The government’s stated aim was to silence broadcasters who encourage sectarian violence. But Human Rights Watch says the restrictions were unclear and susceptible to abuse.

“The main problem is that they’re extremely vague,” Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch told The Media Line.

“They’re ostensibly designed to allow the government to restrict broadcasting that they consider to be incitement, in particular incitement to violence. This is all well and good, but we think these restrictions should be spelled out in more detail. As it is now, it’s left pretty much to the discretion of the officials to determine what is suspicious or not.”

The government restricted media in a number of ways in the months leading up to the parliamentary elections, including denying media accreditation and suing news outlets that criticized government officials.

The main issue at hand, Stork said, was drawing the line between fair criticism and incitement to violence.

“The fact is, if the regulations are left standing as they are written, they give officials complete discretion to shut down broadcasters who would not at all be crossing that line, but may be critical of government policies. They shouldn’t be closed down for that reason alone and that’s what our concern is,” he said.

A letter sent by HRW to the CMC said the regulations suffered from several drafting defects that could inhibit their effectiveness and encroach on the freedoms of Iraq’s broadcast media.

“In particular, the regulations impose inadequate licensing standards and underdeveloped content restrictions,” it said.

“Human Rights Watch’s review of the regulations finds that they fall short of international standards for freedom of expression and we urge you to suspend them until necessary amendments are made.”

Stork also claimed the criteria governing the issuance of licenses were also not clear. They also failed to include criteria designed for fostering diversity and provisions for appeals were inadequate.

“The regulations give the CMC the power to cancel licenses after certain first-time minor violations of the licensing terms. Sanctions directed at broadcast media outlets should be proportionate to the offense and should be graduated in response to the repetition and number of committed offenses,” he said.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 140 journalists have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and at least 89 of those cases were defined as murder. However, the situation is improving – four journalists were killed in connection to their work in Iraq in 2009, the lowest death toll since 2003.

Analysts have attributed this reduction in the death tally to increasing participation of Sunni groups and other sectarian elements in the political process and the shift in security responsibilities from the U.S. military to Iraqi forces.

A requirement that broadcast organizations submit lists of their employees to the CMC represents “an unacceptable security threat to media workers,” HRW said.

“Journalists who wish to stay anonymous must be allowed to do so,” Stork wrote.

“Additionally, the new Iraqi parliament should take all feasible steps to stem acts of violence, intimidation and abuse aimed at muzzling members of the media who have written or broadcast information about governmental corruption or criticized government policies or officials,” he said. “The CMC should ensure that its regulations do not give Iraqi officials the authority to silence voices that speak contrary to the will of the ruling government.”

The CPJ was also critical of the new regulations and called it an “alarming return to authoritarianism.”

The organization said the regulations fell short of international standards for freedom of expression and appeared to contravene the Iraqi constitution.

“Such broad and unspecified standards are often used by repressive governments to silence critical coverage,” CPJ said.

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