Iraq is ranked 162 out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2016 World Press Freedom Index. It was downgraded by six positions in comparison with 2019. In spite of this already stifling context, Iraqi media contents need to be regulated - not censored - to stem the widespread diffusion of sectarian propaganda. By law, the limits imposed on the contents are those loosely set out by the Constitution approved in 2005, which guarantees press freedom, as long as no one violates "public order and morality." A deliberately vague condition that allows arbitrary punishments.
To avoid incurring in government crackdowns, journalists resort frequently to self-censorship. As state employees, the IMN staff is held accountable by political authorities without many incentives to act independently. The reform of IMN and the consequent improvement of its journalistic standards, is thus dependent on rearranging its budgetary agreements with the Iraqi government. In other words, it is dependent on cutting the umbilical cord between media and state coffers without disrupting social safety nets.
Even in the more liberal KRG context, the government remains wary of independent media. In 2008, the independent daily Hawleti was targeted with a 13m Iraqi Dinar lawsuit for publishing an article on the abnormal extent of Barzani and Talabani's personal wealth. In 2010, the government demanded compensation amounting to $1bn and the closing of Gorran-controlled Rozhnama, because of an article on oil smuggling to Iran. Journalists continue to be subject to intimidation, if not kidnapped and killed, when they dare to criticize the 'sacred' Barzani and Talabani families. This was the fate of the student Sardasht Osman, who was murdered for mocking the Barzani family on the web in 2010. No justice was done on his case, which was officially dismissed as a crime committed by Mosul-based Islamist cells.
NRT TV, a media outlet who’s owner spoke out against the 2017 independence referendum was the victim of several attacks, suspensions and restrictions the past few weeks before the referendum, and as the television station prepared to open a new studio to cover the referendum, their office in Erbil was raided by uniformed security forces. Freedom in the World 2018 by Freedom House reported that media outlets and journalists that critiqued the KRG leadership or the independence referendum crisis faced death threats, arrests, beatings and closure orders from various security forces.