Iraq moves to curb channels seen inciting violence

BAGHDAD Thu Jan 28, 2010 7:54am EST

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The Iraqi government is urging fellow Arab countries to help it crack down on television channels watched across the Arab world that it believes incite violence and sectarianism, an official said.

Ali al-Moussawi, manager of Iraq's National Media Center, complained that channels based in Arab nations like Syria, Lebanon and Egypt had broadcast programmes instructing viewers on how to assemble bombs or otherwise stirring up violence.

He did not name any channels or provide more details.

"Satellite channels will be facing two choices: either they can abide by media rules of conduct ... or they may be shut down if they continue," Moussawi said.

The move reflects an increasingly assertive stance from the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in confronting media it deems hostile or irresponsible.

The toughened stance is not welcomed by Muaid al-Lami, the head of the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate, who said the government should let the media regulate itself.

"Direct government interference can be politicized or tinged by motives unrelated to professional criteria," he said.

The syndicate and others have criticized a proposed overhaul of media laws, saying new provisions to protect journalists' rights were weak and would permit government interference.

Al-Sharqiya is one television channel that has found itself frequently at odds with the Iraqi government.

In 2006, the government shut its office in Baghdad over a report about people who said they were tortured in Iraqi jails. Sharqiya now broadcasts from London and from the capital of Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdistan region.

In August, it was fined over $85,000 for airing what a top security official in Baghdad said was a personal attack.

The head of the channel's news department, Ali Wajih, said Sharqiya had been given permission to reopen its office in Baghdad and channel executives were considering it.

"Of course, if we can be sure there is an atmosphere of freedom, disputes will be addressed in courts and not through government pressure ... we wouldn't hesitate to broadcast from Iraq or anywhere else," he said.

(Reporting By Aseel Kami; editing by Missy Ryan and Andrew Roche)

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