from the the-more-things-change dept
Some of us had hoped that the liberation in Iraq would finally produce an example of a once clamped-down, dictatorial regime giving way to a pluralistic government in the Middle East. The theory was that after years of oppressive rule by the minority Sunni population, an inclusive government would result in functioning democracy, with all the benefits that go along with it. Chief amongst those benefits is the right to free speech, which requires allowing an open and free press. Unfortunately, that hope dwindled somewhat years back, when the Iraqi government joined the list of nations that sought to censor the internet to protect its own power. The importance of that move was probably lost on many people who failed to understand that it was an absolute negation of the freedom gained only years before.
And now that negation is apparently continuing under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government, as they have ordered 10 television networks to be shut down on the charges that they simply don't care for their reporting.
Iraq's government ordered 10 television networks shut down Sunday, accusing them of stoking sectarian violence with "unprofessional" and "unethical" coverage of recent clashes in the country's north. Sunday's order from the Communications and Media Commission includes the Qatar-based satellite network Al Jazeera and eight outlets aimed at the country's Sunni Arab minority. Ahmed Saeed, a reporter for Baghdad Satellite TV, said the decree effectively halts his network's reporting.This move is wrong-headed on several levels. First, if media outlets had to be shut down whenever they reported inaccurate information, even America would be left with zero media outlets. Second, considering the targets of these shutdowns, there is a roughly 100% chance that they will be seen as a stifling of speech specifically on the Sunni minority, once in power and now with a minor seat at the government table. The tone here is one of simple revenge rather than any sincere attempt at stifling bad information. Shias censoring Sunnis isn't the way to stop internal conflicts. One needs only look to Syria for evidence that stifling speech won't stop the violence.
And most importantly, moves like this will simply push Iraq back to the very arena in which its people suffered for so many years. Censorship of speech and the press is the field upon which folks like Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida play, and have been playing for longer than al-Maliki's government. They're better at it than he is. The cure is open culture, pluralism, and free speech. Push Iraq away from openness and you place it in danger of fascism and theocracy once more.