An Iraqi Communications and Media Commission (CMC) official said on Monday it had decided to restrict 39 media outlets, including the BBC and Voice of America (VOA), but some outlets said there were no problems so far.
The Journalism Freedoms Observatory (JFO), an Iraqi media rights organization, meanwhile, said the CMC had in fact recommended banning 44 news outlets, and called for the move — which it said violated the constitution — to be reversed.
“The commission published an announcement in all newspapers in February calling for [media outlets] to take licenses in two months to resolve their situations,” said Salem Mashkur, a member of the board of trustees of the CMC, the independent authority charged with regulating media organizations in Iraq.
“But only a small number applied and 39 media outlets preferred not to come and not to apply the law,” he said.
Mashkur alleged that VOA had never obtained a license, while the BBC had done so for its Arabic, but not its English service.
“The interior ministry requested a list of names of unlicensed channels from us and began to limit their travel only, and did not carry out raids or closures or confiscation of equipment, as is our right,” he said, adding that the aim was to “help them and the organization of the work, only.”
The JFO, however, said it had obtained a copy of a document issued by the CMC that “recommends banning 44 Iraqi and foreign media agencies from working in various areas in Iraq.”
“Included are prominent local TV channels and radio stations such as Sharqiya and Baghdadia satellite television stations and foreign-owned media such as BBC, Radio Sawa and Voice of America,” the JFO said in an e-mailed statement.
“The JFO calls on CMC to withdraw regulations which violate the Iraq constitution, which guarantees the freedom of the press, and to follow existing media legislation,” it said.
The group also called on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki “to rein in the behavior of the CMC, since he appointed its acting chief.”
However, the BBC said it was not currently experiencing problems.
“The BBC’s journalists in Baghdad are not currently experiencing any issues reporting from the country,” a BBC spokeswoman said. “It is important that the BBC and other international news organizations are able to operate freely and bring independent and impartial news to audiences in Iraq and the wider region.”
And VOA spokesman Kyle King said that “both Radio Sawa and Voice of America are still on the air in Iraq” and that “we continue to work with Iraqi authorities to ensure compliance with any new Iraqi regulations and licenses.”
“This appears to be a regulatory matter concerning frequencies and licensing that’s being discussed between local and federal officials in Iraq,” King said. “There is nothing indicating it is directed at reporters in the field.”
Iraq regularly ranks near the bottom of global press freedom rankings. It placed 152nd out of 179 countries in media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders’ 2011-2012 World Press Freedom Index, down 22 from the year before.