BAGHDAD — Iraq's media regulator warned news organizations Thursday to stick to the government line on the U.S.-led offensive in Fallouja or face legal action.
Invoking a 60-day state of emergency declared by Iraq's interim government ahead of the assault that began Monday, Iraq's Media High Commission said media should distinguish between insurgents and ordinary residents of the Sunni Muslim city.
The commission, set up by the former U.S. governor of Iraq, was intended to be independent of the government and to encourage investment in the media and deter state meddling after decades of strict control under President Saddam Hussein.
The commission statement bore the letterhead of the Iraqi prime minister's office.
It said all media organizations operating in Iraq should "differentiate between the innocent Fallouja residents who are not targeted by military operations and terrorist groups that infiltrated the city and held its people hostage under the pretext of resistance and jihad."
It said news organizations should "guide correspondents in Fallouja ... not to promote unrealistic positions or project nationalist tags on terrorist gangs of criminals and killers."
It also asked media to "set aside space in your news coverage to make the position of the Iraqi government, which expresses the aspirations of most Iraqis, clear."
"We hope you comply ... otherwise we regret we will be forced to take all the legal measures to guarantee higher national interests," the statement said. It did not elaborate.
The state of emergency, which covers all of Iraq except the Kurdish north, gives the prime minister extra powers to try to crush the insurgency before elections set for January.
The media commission has not previously issued a call for media to take a certain line, and it was not clear what provoked Thursday's statement.
In August, satellite television channel Al Jazeera said it had been asked to close its Baghdad office for one month for backing "criminals and gangsters" by airing parts of videotapes from groups claiming to have seized or killed foreign hostages.
A month later it said the ban had been extended indefinitely.