Iraqi Government Pulls the Plug on TV Station

The Arabic-language television station Al-Arabiya was yanked off the air in Iraq yesterday, banned by the government for one month.

According to a statement read on-air by an anchor, the channel is "accused of portraying an unstable environment, distorting the truth and giving information that is biased, and therefore have to shut down all their operations in Iraq."

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told ABC News' Baghdad bureau that the channel had received warning that they were broadcasting stories that were inciting sectarian violence, but wouldn't give any specifics.

Prime Minister al-Maliki spoke about freedom of the press in his speech to the joint sessions of Congress in July. "What used to be a state-controlled media are now completely free and uncensored, something which Iraq had never witnessed since the establishment of its modern state, and something which remains to this day unknown to most states of the region."

But Joel Campagna, the Mideast Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, says the reality of press freedom in Iraq is much different. "You have a government which has publicly committed itself to democracy and freedom of the press on the one hand, and on the other it shutters news bureaus and has criminally prosecuted journalists, and its security forces routinely harass working journalists."

This is not the first time Al-Arabiya has been suspended by the government. In 2004, it was banned for airing a videotape of Saddam Hussein who was a fugitive at the time. Al-Jazeera was also banned that same year by the interim authorities, and their Baghdad bureau has since been shut down permanently.

"We saw after the toppling of Saddam Hussein, an explosion of new media in Iraq, and I think that's been overall a very positive thing, but you see attempts by governing authorities to restrict press freedoms," says Campagna. "Understandably, there are concerns about the security situation in Iraq, we're well aware of the problems Iraq's facing, but lashing out at media and shutting down news bureaus is not a solution."

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