Global Policy Forum

Keep Government Line on Falluja,

November 11, 2004

Iraq's media regulator warned news organisations on Thursday to stick to the government line on the U.S.-led offensive in Falluja or face legal action. Invoking a 60-day state of emergency declared by Iraq's interim government ahead of the assault that began on Monday, Iraq's Media High Commission urged media to distinguish between insurgents and ordinary residents of the Sunni Muslim city.

The authority, set up by the former U.S. governor of Iraq, is intended to be independent of the government to encourage investment in the media and deter state meddling after decades of strict control under Saddam Hussein. The commission statement sent to Reuters on Thursday bore the letterhead of the Iraqi prime minister's office. It said all media organisations operating in Iraq should "differentiate between the innocent Falluja residents who are not targeted by military operations and terrorist groups that infiltrated the city and held its people hostage under the pretext of resistance and jihad".

It said news organisations should "guide correspondents in Falluja ... not to promote unrealistic positions or project nationalist tags on terrorist gangs of criminals and killers". It also asked media to "set aside space in your news coverage to make the position of the Iraqi government, which expresses the aspirations of most Iraqis, clear".

"We hope you comply ... otherwise we regret we will be forced to take all the legal measures to guarantee higher national interests," the statement said, without elaborating. The state of emergency, which covers all of Iraq except the Kurdish north, gives the prime minister extra powers to try to crush the insurgency ahead of elections due in January.

The media commission has not previously issued a call for media to take a certain line and it was not clear what provoked Thursday's statement. But some media organisations have in the past fallen foul of Iraq's interim government, which officially took over sovereignty in June. Al Jazeera said in August it had been asked to close its Baghdad office for one month for backing "criminals and gangsters" by airing parts of videotapes from groups claiming to have seized or killed foreign hostages. A month later it said that ban had been extended indefinitely. Until Saddam's fall last year, an Information Ministry ran a state news agency, radio and television, its employees staffed the newspapers, and its "minders" kept foreign journalists on a tight rein.

Newspapers, magazines and radio stations have mushroomed since Saddam's fall and operate without any official license.

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