Irakiske myndigheter forbød søndag 10 TV-kanaler å operere i landet, under henvisning til at de oppflammer sekteriske motsetninger.
Ni av dem er rettet mot sunnier, og bare en mot shiaer, hvilket viser hvilken påvirkning myndighetene frykter.
De utenlandske stasjonene som Al Jazeera kan ikke blokkeres, men deres journalister får ikke lenger operere i landet. Alle mobiltelefoner er sperret.
Myndighetene fykter dekning av sammenstøt mellom hæren og sunni-militsen.
In its statement, the media commission said the networks had broadcast “misinformation, hype and exaggeration” that had deepened sectarian divisions in Iraq. The statement specifically mentioned coverage last week of a raid by security forces on a Sunni protest camp in Hawija, a northern village near Kirkuk, which left nearly 50 people dead and more than 100 wounded, and set off revenge attacks against the army and the police and a call to arms by Sunni tribal leaders. Clashes between Sunni gunmen and security forces continued over the weekend.
The commission said that it had the authority to restrict news coverage it deemed was encouraging “hatred on the basis of national or ethnic or religious identities that can incite discrimination, hostility or violence.”
In a written statement, a senior American official, who insisted on not being identified, said, “Besides giving the appearance of trying to cover up security force actions and intimidate the press, this undermines confidence in the Iraqi government’s ability to govern democratically and guarantee freedom of expression.”
Many of the channels had devoted large amounts of airtime to the Sunni protest movement that began in December and last week took a violent turn that has raised the specter of a new civil war. A report last year by Sharqiya, in particular, that alleged mistreatment of Sunni women prisoners in Iraqi jails, became a rallying cry for the protesters.
The Iraqi government has sought to cast the protest movement, which is divided by many factions, as a plot by Al Qaeda or the Baath Party to overturn Shiite rule in Iraq, and the media outlets aligned with various factions have sought to control the narrative. Last week when channels like Sharqiya were showing images of the mayhem in Hawija, the state-run channel Iraqiya was broadcasting a poetry festival in Basra.