New Iraqi TV Complains of U.S. Censorship

From the archive (legacy material)

Saul Hudson | Reuters | 13 May 2003

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The U.S.-sponsored Iraqi television station began broadcasts Tuesday after complaining of American censorship, including efforts to stop it airing passages from the Koran, the Muslim holy book.
At the start of what is being trumpeted as a new broadcasting era in a nation fed on a diet of state propaganda, Baghdad residents with electricity saw the Iraqi flag appear on their screens as a pan-Arab nationalist anthem played.
Deprived of any locally produced television since U.S. troops ousted Saddam Hussein, Iraqis watched canned interviews and decades-old music shows.
But the Iraqi Media Network postponed plans to air a half-hour live news program because of disputes over editorial control.
“As journalists we will not submit to censorship,” said Dan North, a Canadian documentary maker advising Iraqis at the station, which plans two hours of programming a night for viewers in Baghdad.
“This whole idea was about starting the genesis of an open media so we will not accept an outside source scrutinizing what we produce.”
The charges of censorship could reaffirm for many Iraqis the perception that Washington is not allowing them a free hand in building democratic institutions.
“All my neighbors say this TV is controlled by the Americans to get out their point of view,” said Abbas Mohammed, a cakemaker, who watched the broadcast in his living room with his family. “But I don’t care there was no news. In Iraq the news is always bad.”
U.S. officials made no comment on the censorship allegations. They had earlier said the station would be a welcome change from the Saddam era.
“This is not American propaganda. This is the first time in 25 years Iraqis are getting TV that is not propaganda,” said Robert Teasdale, a U.S. adviser to the network.
But North said the U.S.-led administration’s Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) had requested the station’s news programs be reviewed by the wife of Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish leader and a major figure in the postwar politics of Iraq.
“Could you imagine a political leader being able to check the content of any Western media?” North said.
The news program would be postponed for a week because of the wrangling, said North, himself hired by the ORHA.
The network did air verses from the Koran, a tradition in Middle Eastern countries, because the Iraqi workers threatened to walk out if they were dropped at the ORHA’s behest.
An eleventh-hour programming change on Tuesday cut an address by Jay Garner, the No.2 in the U.S.-led civilian administration. The station broadcast canned packages, including an interview with an electricity official and sound bites from Iraqis outside a hospital complaining of a lack of medicine.
At the ORHA’s “suggestion,” the station cut one section in which a patient made an unsubstantiated accusation that U.S. soldiers were stealing gasoline, North said.