Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Coalition Curbs Wild Iraqi Press

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Coalition Curbs Wild Iraqi Press

Article excerpt

For the first time, coalition authorities in Iraq have shut down an Iraqi newspaper, charging that its publication of a July 13 article calling for "death to all ... who cooperate with the United States" and threatening to publish a list of collaborators' names was a dangerous violation of international law.

A special investigative unit of the Iraqi police on Monday sealed the offices in Baghdad of the semiweekly Arabic newspaper Al Mustaqilla and took into custody its office manager. The manager, whose name was not released, is undergoing questioning.

A search of the premises turned up blank Baath Party membership cards, a sign that the newspaper was "anything but independent," said Coalition Provisional Authority chief spokesperson Charles Heatly.

The case illustrates that despite the commitment of the US-led coalition to a free Iraqi press, there are lines that cannot be crossed. Coalition authorities have warned at least two other newspapers that their coverage was "inciteful to violence" and could prompt action, Heatly said.

New media explosion

More than 100 Iraqi newspapers have sprung up since the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, when the press consisted of propaganda strictly controlled by the government. "Under Saddam, the papers were all lies," says one Iraqi student.

Today, all around Baghdad, newspaper vendors peddle a variety of colorful Arabic-language publications that cover everything from electricity shortages and crime to salaries.

While they expose the horrors of the previous regime, including the discovery of mass graves, they also criticize the American-led administration in Iraq.

But despite the sudden surge in the number of media outlets, some observers say the coalition authorities need to do more to reach average Iraqis.

The communication gap is also felt in the new US-appointed Iraqi political council.

"The problem is that in the face of hostile media outlets, you don't have national information systems for either the coalition or the governing council, so our message is lost," says Hoshyar Zebari, political adviser to Masoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and one of the 25 council members. …

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