Iraq halts media shutdown plans


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The Independent Online

Iraq has suspended plans to close 44 media operations in the country, including the BBC and Voice of America, after an outcry by press freedom campaigners.

The Communications and Media Commission that regulates the news media in Iraq will give the targeted organisations more time to pay outstanding fees and renew lapsed licenses, deputy director Ali Nasir said.

The commission denied that its previous order to close the agencies, most of them Iraqi, represented a crackdown on a free press. No media outlets were known to be actually shut down.

Still, the Iraqi press watchdog Journalistic Freedoms Observatory decried the order as "a setback to the freedom of journalism in Iraq."

The group accused the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of trying to silence critics. The dispute called into question the future of Iraq's fledgling democracy nine years after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Mr Nasir said today that five organisations, including the BBC and US-funded Radio Sawa, are working with the media commission to settle licensing problems.

Most of the other organisations on the list are Iraqi, including prominent broadcasters that had criticised al-Maliki but also Shiite religious programming that had no apparent political stance.

Some of the broadcasters targeted for closure are using frequencies that are either licensed to other stations or used by security forces, Mr Nasir said.