Cairo-based Al-Baghdadiya TV ends Iraq operations

by Andy Sennitt.

Cairo-based satellite TV channel Al-Baghdadiya said on Friday that it had shut its Iraq operations, weeks after its broadcasts were cut for airing demands of militants who took Christians hostage in a church. The channel blamed Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for its decision to shutter its bureaus in the country, and said it did not know if or when it would re-open its offices.

“Given the persistent desire of the prime minister to prevent Al-Baghdadiya from working in Iraq, the management of the channel has decided to close its bureaus in the country,” said a statement from the privately owned channel, founded in 2005 and often critical of the Iraqi government. “We are sorry to have had to take this decision, but we believe that efforts to block the people from expressing their views and daily suffering will not stop Al-Baghdadiya from fighting for freedom of the press, the investigation of corruption and freedom of opinion.”

On 1 November, Iraqi troops cut the channel’s power after it broadcast the demands of militants who took Christians hostage in an attack in which 46 people died. It was later claimed by Al-Qaeda. The Communications and Media Commission, the independent authority charged with regulating media organisations in Iraq, had ruled the network had “broken the law”, and an appeal filed by the channel was subsequently denied.

“We tried (to appeal) and we nearly reached an agreement with the CMC after having made some clarifications,” Abdel Hamid as-Saeh, the channel’s general manager, told AFP by telephone from Cairo.
“But then we found out that the decision was taken above the commission and actually came from the office of the prime minister.” He added: “We were also aware that other charges were being prepared against us and that put our 144 employees in Iraq in danger.”

Mr Saeh said the Iraqi army was still occupying the channel’s Baghdad offices, and Al-Baghdadiya employees were not being allowed to remove its equipment. A day after the original ban was put in place, Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned the decision as “hasty and disproportionate.”

“Before closing this TV station, there should have been an impartial investigation to establish to what degree the activities of its journalists influenced the outcome of the hostage-taking,” RSF said in a statement.
Al-Baghdadiya’s closure is the latest of multiple such bans in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion led to an explosion in the number of homes with satellites affixed to them.

In 2004, ex-prime minister Iyad Allawi barred Al-Jazeera from the country and, Mr Maliki himself banned Sunni TV station Zawra and Al-Sharqiyah channel in November 2006 and January 2007 respectively.
It was an Al-Baghdadiya staffer - Muntazer al-Zaidi - who in December 2008 notoriously threw his shoes at visiting US president George W Bush.