Regulatory authorities

Under the CPA, the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the INGO Internews took the lead in shaping the regulatory system, pressured by the need to set rules for a booming media industry. In January 2004, the FCO media team developed a framework for an independent regulatory body, the Communications and Media Commission (CMC), to be in charge of telecommunications and media licensing. The commission was also entrusted with the definition of ethical boundaries for freedom of speech, safeguard against media incitement and monitoring during elections. The new body's sustainability was centred on the revenues received from its telecoms and broadcast licenses and it was expected to return any excess to the Iraqi treasury. Print media did not require a licence under the new regulation, but the CMC’s mission was to encouraging freedom of expression and professionalism of the press by drafting an ethical code in partnership with the journalistic staff and developing a self-regulating mechanism to implement the code.

The new Iraqi Constitution granted the CMC a certain degree of independence, connecting it to the legislation branch only. According to Article 103, the CMC was also established as a financially and administratively independent institution. The prime minister nominates the CMC board members, whose appointment needs to be approved by a parliamentary majority. Public officers and political party members cannot be elected as board members.

Nonetheless, according to the BBC Action 2013 policy briefing, the Iraqi political class was scarcely receptive to the concept of a non-profit independent regulatory body and the media themselves saw the need to apply for a licence as a restrictive measure in the post-Saddam era.

On one hand, the CMC failed to tone down hate speech through its mandate. In 2012, for example, when Iraq witnessed a peak of brutal killings of Emo youth, at least one channel (PM Maliki's Al-Masar TV) broadcasted a report underlining the alleged common traits between Emos, Freemasonry, Zionism and Satanism. It was a clear call for more blood, when Emos were being stoned to death by Shia militias for being "Satan worshippers" and the CMC did nothing about it.

On the other hand, the Iraqi government resorts selectively to the commission to muzzle opposition media. In 2013, for example, Maliki shut down ten TV channels, mostly from the Sunni opposition, by revoking their CMC licence. Licenses can be denied on grounds of “morality and public behaviour”, replicating the flaws of the constitutional text. Furthermore, on its website, the CMC clarifies that it “has the right at all times to omit or amend these [ie its own] principles and provisions to promote the public interest,” thus casting a shade on its commitment to be an independent regulatory body.

After a state of emergency was declared amidst the IS offensive in June 2014, the CMC issued its “mandatory” guidelines for media “during the war on terror”, a set of nebulous instructions to control coverage. One stipulation called on media to “hold on to the patriotic sense” and to “be careful when broadcasting material that […] may express insulting sentiments” or does “not accord with the moral and patriotic order required for the war on terror.” According to a Freedom House 2015 report, these guidelines have resulted in inaccurate reports on the conflict, claiming IS had been defeated in Tikrit while the city was still controlled by the militants. Iraqi Kurdish media received similar instructions.