21 November 2002
Daily newspaper "Babel" closed for one month
(RSF/IFEX) - On 21 November 2002, RSF protested the government's one-month closure of the country's most influential newspaper, "Babel".
"Even though the paper is owned by President Saddam Hussein's eldest son, Uday, himself a notorious censor of the media, it recently published the views of regime opponents and criticised corruption and inefficiency in the regime," noted RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard. "The authorities were quick to react, as usual. Whatever the reason for this episode, which appears to be a settling of scores, we call for the immediate reopening of this rare window to the outside world," he said.
An official source simply said the newspaper had "violated the Information Ministry's instructions." The ministry announced the closure on 20 November.
All Iraqi media follow official propaganda to the letter, but "Babel" and the television station Shebab, whose programming is aimed at young people, and which is also controlled by Uday Hussein, have recently tackled certain sensitive topics. Shebab relays programmes from other Arab stations, including Al-Jazeera, which are normally inaccessible to Iraqis, since the government bans satellite dishes.
"Babel" published a report on 17 November speculating on the fate of the president's family should a war erupt between Iraq and the United States. The newspaper reported that Libya had denied a story in the British daily "The Times" claiming that President Hussein was ready to pay Libya billions of dollars if it gave political asylum to him, his family and top aides. "Babel" also reported on the views of Iraqi regime opponents, though it also dismissed them as "miserable traitors in the pay of the United States."
Once thought to be the strongest candidate to succeed his father as president, Uday Hussein is also head of Iraq's journalists' union, the National Olympic Committee and the Iraqi football federation. In 2000, he won election to parliament, claiming 99.99 percent of the vote in his constituency.
The main sources of news concerning American threats to the country remain foreign radio stations such as the BBC, Radio Monte Carlo or Radio Sawa, an Arabic-language station funded by the United States which has been broadcasting from Jordan since March 2002.