By: David G. Johnson
U.S. Foreign Aid Watch Organization
Administration officials have lately complained that the press is not covering all of the 'good' things that are happening in Iraq. On Friday, November 18, 2003, Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld made the following statement regarding the press in Iraq:
You know, for decades, they've been allowed to do only those things that they were told to do, and everything else was prohibited. Suddenly it's all turned on its head, and now they're allowed to do anything except those few things that are prohibited. It's just backwards.
If you read his statement carefully you find that it truly is 'just backwards', because it shows that the only thing that has really changed is which authority is telling them what they can and can't publish. Perhaps their motto should be 'All the news that the Coalition Provisional Authority sees fit to publish". What Mr. Rumsfeld failed to say is what were those "few things that are prohibited".
According to Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 14 (June 2003):
Media organizations are prohibited from broadcasting or publishing original, re-broadcast, reprinted or syndicated material that:
a) incites violence against any individual or group, including racial, ethnic, or religious groups and woman;
b) incites civil disorder, rioting or damage to property;
c) incites violence against Coalition Forces or CPA personnel;
d) advocates alterations to Iraq's borders by violent means;
e) advocates the return of power of the Iraqi Ba'ath Party or makes statements that purport to be on behalf of the Iraqi Ba'ath Party.
The penalty for violating the order is up to one year in prison and a fine of $1000. The Administrator authorized surprise on-site inspections in which production equipment and prohibited materials could be confiscated without compensation and the entire premises could be sealed off.
Of course the Order also includes some rights for any afflicted organization:
Any media organization whose license, property, or operation has been withdrawn, seized, sealed or closed, may submit to the Administrator written evidence as to why the action should be reversed.
The Order also includes a section that allows for the CPA to "take direct action to prevent or defeat the threat" of any media activity that poses a threat to Coalition Forces or CPA personnel or a significant threat to public order. Also in that section is a statement that CPA could execute military operations under its Rules of Engagement.
Without having to resort to possible scenarios, lets look at a recent event in which Al Arabiya rebroadcast a tape allegedly from Saddam Hussein. The Coalition Authority promptly sent in police to shut them down. The rotating head of Iraqi Governing Council is quoted as saying ''Al Arabiya broadcast in Saddam's voice an invitation to kill members of the Governing Council. Saddam in our eyes is a criminal, a torturer, a war criminal, and whoever disseminates for him exposes himself to legal punishment''.
According to a translated excerpt of the Saddam tape as published by Aljazeera:
Fighting them... is a legitimate, patriotic and humanitarian duty and the occupiers have no choice but to leave our country Iraq, the country of Arabs and Islam, as cursed losers.... The path of jihad and resistance is the best path under God, human kind and history, and is the only path which will guarantee the expulsion of the tyrannical foreign forces from our country and grant total freedom and sovereignty to our people in their land.
I can't think of one war where it wasn't claimed that "God is on our side" by both sides, nor can I think of any occupation where the resistance forces were urged to capitulate by their exiled leaders.
Perhaps there may be another reason for shutting down Al Arabiya.
In a press briefing with Sec. Rumsfeld General Myers said:
And so Ambassador Bremer's team has a group, as some of you probably know, that are working that very hard and standing up quality programming that we hope will attract the average Iraqi citizens' attention to what's going on in their own country and that will compete with Al Jazeera and Al Arabiyah and other stations. That capability is standing up and is supposed to be fully up by next month, which is an important part of this whole communications scheme and important for their democracy.
In the Emergency Wartime Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2003 (Enrolled as Agreed to or Passed by Both House and Senate) H.R.1559
INTERNATIONAL BROADCASTING OPERATIONS
For an additional amount for `International Broadcasting Operations' for activities related to the Middle East Television Network broadcasting to the Middle East and radio broadcasting to Iraq , $30,500,000, to remain available until September 30, 2004.
The president's budget request had included $10 million to modernize the business practices of the Iraqi television and radio industry but it was not funded past the House Appropriations Committee markup of the budget.
According to an article from Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the main TV station in Iraq,The Iraqi Media Network (IMN), which was setup by the Coalition is referred to as "the American TV station." The article further claims that the local media has problems regarding their credibility and that the most trusted source is from satellite TV stations. According to the article, the broadcast from the Iraqi Media Network is about six hours long per day and consists largely of soap operas, Iraqi folk songs and football matches along with one 10 minute News broadcast that is aired twice a day. Although the editor of the network claims that the news is fully independent, Reporters without Borders reports that "In reality, the news bulletin is dominated by Bremer's statements and the doings of the CPA. "
One has to wonder if the shutting down of Al Arabiya was an attempt to stifle the only trusted media in Iraq just in time for the debut of the Coalition's new programming that general Myers referred to.
This is not the first time that the Coalition has banned news agencies. Back in September, Entefadh Qanbar, a spokesman for the body's current president, Ahmad Chalabi, vowed to shut down their [Aljazeera and Al Arabiya] Baghdad offices temporarily but the Authority only banned them from attending official activities. "Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya will temporarily be excluded from any coverage of Governing Council activities or official press conferences, and correspondents of the two channels will not be allowed to enter ministries or government offices for two weeks," the authority was quoted as saying.
It is readily obvious that the ban in this case was retaliatory rather than in accordance to the regulations drafted by the Coalition. Unless they thought that the coverage of the official press conferences and activities of the Governing Council was inciting violence.
The latest ban was accompanied by a threat to all news agencies according to a report by CNN:
Shortly before the police came to al Arabiya's offices, Jalal Talabani cautioned journalists not to engage in "incitement," saying the Governing Council would go after any media outlet -- "even the BBC, if they encourage incitement."
Since the Coalition order specifically mentions that they are allowed to use military force when they "take direct action to prevent or defeat the threat" under the Coalition's Rules of Engagement (which are secret), it is impossible to tell whether they will target a cruise missile at the BBC's offices if they publish anything that the Coalition deems to incite violence.
Also of concern regarding the Coalition's policy is the fact that any intent to incite need not be proven before the Authority takes action. One has to wonder if someone goes berserk and smashes a TV after watching the broadcast of a soap opera on the Iraqi Media Network whether that broadcast would be in violation of the Coalition's rules regarding the incitement of violence.
Clearly, the Coalition's rules lack any semblance of the normal rules of law, such as a right to a hearing and a right to an appeal. The Coalition could literally say anything was inciting violence and the only recourse an afflicted agency would have would be to send a letter to the CPA asking for forgiveness.
last updated: 11.24.2003