Iraq suspends US-funded Al Hurra channel over investigation into religious corruption

The country's media commission has requested for an official apology from the channel

The studio at Arabic TV network Al Hurra, part of Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN), founded in 2004 and funded by the US government. Al Hurra
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Iraq’s Media Commission suspended on Monday the US-backed Al Hurra news station for three months following a programme that investigated corruption among religious institutions.

Al Hurra, which means “The Free One” in Arabic, broadcasted a programme as part of its ongoing series of investigations entitled “Religious Corruption”. The country's media regulator accused the channel of defamation.

The US-funded channel looked into alleged nepotism and corruption among the country’s leading Shiite and Sunni institutions.

“The program neglected the importance of accuracy and did not present valid evidence when making its case. It was not transparent in presenting its views,” the Commission said in a statement.

The Commission has requested an official apology from Al Hurra’s office “for the abuse of religious personalities and institutions that has damaged their reputation and status in the Iraqi community.”

The Sunni endowment, accused in the programme, rejected its accusations and said it would take legal action against Al Hurra. The Shiite endowment, also accused, is yet to comment.

Al Hurra’s programme raised questions about the management of funds by religious figures in the Holy city of Karbala.

The commission warned that it would take legal action against the channel "if it continues to breach media law".

Lack of good governance has been central to Iraq’s problems. Transparency International ranks Iraq 168 out of 180 countries on its Corruption Perception Index.

In response, Al Hurra's spokesperson told The National that the episode produced on August 31st, was a fair, balanced and professional report on the allegations of corruption in some institutions in Iraq.

"During the extensive preparations of the report over time, individuals and institutions involved were given the right of reply, which they declined. We still offer those same institutions the opportunity to reply," Deirdre Kline, Director of Communications for Middle East Broadcasting Networks, said.

Alhurra is committed to fair and professional journalism in Arabic throughout the region, Mrs Kline said.

Iraqi politicians rejected the programme, accusing it of “fabricated lies”.

“It is time for state authorities to play their role in behaving in a professional manner to stop abusing state and religious intuitions without checking for accuracy or facts,” Iraq’s parliamentary speaker Mohammed Al Halbousi said in a statement on Sunday.

Washington commented on the development saying that it does not have “control over the content of the programmes that Al Hurra broadcasts.”

“Al Hurra deals with regional topics in a clear and transparent manner,” the US Embassy in Baghdad said in a statement.

“The Iraqi government has the right to respond and hold the channel accountable for any report it believes is inaccurate, unprofessional or contradicts US policy,” the statement said.

Baghdad has struggled to stay out of tensions between its two biggest allies, US and Iran. The escalation deepened after President Donald Trump's administration unilaterally pulled out of a landmark 2015 nuclear accord agreed by major world powers with Tehran.

"The campaign against Al Hurra could be part of Iran's efforts to curb America's influence out of the country," an Iraqi official, who chose to remain anonymous, told The National.

Officials in Baghdad are worried about a potential confrontation between Tehran and Washington which has challenged stability in the country.