BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq's Interior Ministry said Thursday it had formed a special unit to monitor news coverage and vowed to take legal action against journalists who failed to correct stories the ministry deemed to be incorrect.
Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, spokesman for the ministry, said the purpose of the special monitoring unit was to find “fabricated and false news that hurts and gives the Iraqis a wrong picture that the security situation is very bad, when the facts are totally different.”
He said offenders would be notified and asked to “correct these false reports on their main news programs. But if they do not change those lying, false stories, then we will seek legal action against them.”
This has all happened because of the AP/right-wing (CSI: Bloggerville)/CENTCOM dispute over the story of 6 burned men in the Hurriya district of Baghdad last Friday that CENTCOM, which cannot confirm or deny the incident, has accused the AP of falsifying - cheered on by right-wing bloggers who (despite having any actual evidence beyond what CENTCOM has fed them) have pushed this story to a state of typical hysteria against media agencies they choose to label as 'the enemy'. Of course, when those agencies like the AP, Reuters or the New York Times actually report on something that suits their agenda, they have absolutely no qualms about believing it.
If the Interior Ministry had this new media monitoring unit in place earlier in November, they would have come darn close to having to fine themselves:
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Coalition and Iraqi troops in southeastern Iraq continued their hunt Friday night for five Western security contractors abducted the day before.
The five included four Americans and an Austrian, all employees of Crescent Security Corp. operating over the southeastern border in Kuwait.
The Iraqi Interior Ministry said earlier Friday that police had rescued two Americans from a house but later retracted the statement.
Anyone who wants to read about how the Interior Ministry and the US military already control the media in Iraq should read this article by Dahr Jamail. And that's just a glimpse of a very short period of time in early 2006. We're certainly all aware of how the Pentagon tried to convince everyone that Pat Tillman's death was caused by enemy fire and how they pumped up the Jessica Lynch rescue story to turn her into the conquering empire's poster girl.
I've had two visits from CENTCOM and one from the Pentagon at my blog in the past year when their public affairs department decided they had to comment on the stories I wrote about to add their spin. As I've written before, the fact that they would waste their time, money and effort to run around debunking the bad PR they get on little-visited blogs like mine shows exactly what kind of control freaks they are, so it's no surprise that they've prodded Iraq's Interior Ministry into threatening the media now. They're bullies and propagandists. That's what they do.
Earlier this week, the Iraqi government barred the media from its parliament with president Talabani claiming that reporting about the tension between the politicians was actually 'inciting' more violence.
The Iraqi Journalists Union declined comment on the issue – a senior union official indicated he was afraid to speak out. Dozens of journalists have been killed since the U.S. invasion of 2003, with the number of killings rising sharply of late.
The government has also not hesitated to censure media organisations. It ordered two Sunni-run television channels off the air for several days this month, apparently over their coverage of the death sentence passed on Saddam.
Al Jazeera has been banned from Iraq for the past two years. The Baghdad bureau of its rival pan-Arab channel Al Arabiya was shut down for a month in September because of its coverage.
Politicians from the Shi'ite majority have accused channels run from Sunni-ruled Arab states of being biased against them.
Former US House speaker Newt Gingrich had a few words to say about tightening up on the first amendment to the American constitution this week which led MSNBC's Keith Olbermann to make Gingrich's repressive views the topic of his special comment on Thursday evening (text & video).
“We will adopt rules of engagement that use every technology we can find,” Mr. Gingrich continued about terrorists, formerly communists, formerly hippies, formerly Fifth Columnists, formerly anarchists, formerly Redcoats, “to break up their capacity to use the Internet, to break up their capacity to use free speech.”
Mr. Gingrich, the British “broke up our capacity to use free speech” in the 1770s.
The pro-slavery leaders “broke up our capacity to use free speech” in the 1850s.
The FBI and CIA “broke up our capacity to use free speech” in the 1960s.
It is in those groups where you would have found your kindred spirits, Mr. Gingrich.
For all of the blustering that the neocons do about exporting 'freedom' to Iraq, their actions regarding the proliferation of free speech there are anything but. Following the Rumsfeldian model, they believe that the suppression of freedom of the press and the telling of the Good News ™ will actually convince non-believers that the civil war in Iraq really isn't all that bad, despite all of those tortured bodies that keep showing up there every day and the uncontrollable violence in the midst of a place that still doesn't have adequate electricty, sewage, running water, hospitals or humanitarian services - along with a growing revolt within Iraq's government. At least word of those two Sunni politicians joining al-Sadr in criticizing al-Maliki's leadership was allowed to get out of the new media shackles of the Interior Ministry.
There are so few journalists reporting from Iraq that aren't either embedded (which has become far too dangerous) and/or fed the official line from the Pentagon that those who are able to get out on their own (such as Dahr Jamail and Patrick Cockburn) must be encouraged to continue to tell us what's really happening there. Every single person who is concerned about the truth deserves to know it and if CENTCOM or the Interior Ministry intend to stifle those voices, they need to back up their allegations with facts, not unsubstantiated allegations as they've attempted to do in the case of the Associated Press.