Iraq cancels TV show for insulting tribal sheikhs

Country's media regulator orders private channel UTV to stop broadcasting Al Kasser series

Fountains at Firdos Square in Baghdad. The Al Kasser series has been criticised for depicting tribal leaders as backwards tyrants. AP
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Iraq's media regulator has ordered the cancellation of a Ramadan television series accused of portraying the country's tribal leaders as salacious despots, following anger from politicians and local chiefs.

After only three episodes, the Communications and Media Commission ordered private channel UTV to stop broadcasting Al Kasser (The Predator). The regulator said on Sunday it would work to stop anyone “seeking to undermine social stability”.

Tribal culture permeates daily life in Iraq, particularly in the southern regions, with the judgment of local sheikhs often sought to resolve disputes, including arguments over land and marital issues. The weight of these decisions is often trusted over those of state courts.

The series had been criticised for its depiction of tribal leaders as backwards tyrants, abusive of their power and obsessed with women, with parliamentarian Mustafa Sanad describing it as “an offence” to society in southern Iraq.

Mr Sanad, a member of Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani's governing Co-ordination Framework bloc, on Friday called for the cancellation of the show. It “harms the reputation of our tribes”, he said.

The UTV network, owned by the son of prominent Sunni Muslim politician Khamis Al Khanjar, said the station had been subject to anonymous threats and stopped broadcasting the series on Sunday.

Mohammed Al Azzaoui, a spokesman for UTV, confirmed the cancellation despite the series having received the “approval” of Iraq's actors guild.

Last year, Iraq's media regulator also forced UTV to suspend a satirical programme after it aired an episode criticising alleged corruption in the armed forces.

Activists and civil society organisations have recently expressed alarm over the increased repression of freedom of speech by authorities in the conflict-scarred country.

In January, the interior ministry announced a campaign to target “decadent content” on social media platforms like YouTube and TikTok, which it described as breaching Iraqi “mores and traditions”.

Some producers have been imprisoned, including local TikTok personality Om Fahad, who gained tens of thousands of followers by uploading videos of herself dancing to pop music.

Updated: March 28, 2023, 5:53 AM