BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq has suspended the licenses of satellite news network Al Jazeera and nine other channels, accusing them of inciting violence through their coverage of recent sectarian clashes.
The Communication and Media Commission (CMC) regulator criticized their reporting of violence triggered by a security forces raid on a Sunni Muslim protest camp in Hawija on Tuesday.
None of the channels was immediately available for comment.
More than 170 people have been killed in the fighting - the worst Iraq has seen since Sunnis started staging protests in December to complain about their treatment by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shi‘ite-led government.
The watchdog said sectarian language used in the reports encouraged “criminal acts of revenge by attacking the security forces”.
“The CMC sees in the speech and content propagated by the channels...an incitement and escalation which leans towards misleading and exaggeration more than towards objectivity,” the watchdog said in a statement published on Sunday.
Most of the channels, including local stations such as “Baghdad” and “al-Sharqiya”, are pro-Sunni and often critical of the Shi‘ite-led government. Al Jazeera is based in Qatar, a Sunni-ruled kingdom.
The watchdog is powerless to stop the channels broadcasting, but may make it harder for their local staff to cover events.
Media rights group the Iraqi Journalistic Freedoms Observatory said the CMC was biased, as some officials in the body had been appointed by the government.
“We do not deny there is an incitement to violence by some media outlets, but we consider the suspension of licenses of 10 satellite channels a blow for democracy,” the Observatory’s Executive Director Ziyad al-Ajili told Reuters.
Last June, the CMC ordered the closure of 44 media outlets including the BBC and Voice of America. It does not have the power to stop them broadcasting from overseas.
Violence, including bomb attacks that have killed dozens of people at a time, has increased across Iraq this year. Provisional figures from rights group Iraq Body Count indicate about 1,365 people have been killed so far in 2013.
Reporting by Aseel Kami; Editing by Isabel Coles and Angus MacSwan