Middle East

Iraqi TV reflects sectarian split

ISIS fighters travel in vehicles taken from Iraqi security forces, on a street in Iraqi city of Mosul (10 June 2014) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption ISIS militants seized the city of Mosul on 10 June

Iraqi TV coverage of events within the country portrays a nation riddled with political dissatisfaction and divided along sectarian and ethnic lines.

With most normal programming suspended on many channels, the focus is on the ongoing fighting across the country.

Channels loyal to Prime Minister Nouri Maliki - including the government's own al-Iraqiya TV - are rallying Iraqis to volunteer and fight to restore order and remove "terrorists".

Meanwhile, Sunni channels present the latest advances by the insurgents as part of an uprising against what they call "al-Maliki's army".

'Settling scores'

Al-Iraqiya has been displaying a logo of a soldier carrying an Iraqi flag above text which reads: "Settling scores" - the motto of the operation against Sunni militants in Anbar and Fallujah that began in December last year.

Image copyright Al-Iraqiyah
Image caption State-run al-Iraqiya has urged volunteers to join the army in the fight against the insurgents

The phrase was picked up by the official spokesman for the Sunni-led Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, who recently said that a "long and heavy score" will be settled in Shia Islam's holiest cities of Karbala and Najaf.

Al-Rafidain TV, a channel backed by another Sunni group, showed footage of the damage resulting from what it called "Maliki's war on the people". The clips showed destroyed houses, dead bodies and elderly women weeping and cursing the prime minister.

One clip ends with the image of a dead child with the words: "The explosive barrels are terror's weapon for settling scores" - a reference to the explosive devices favoured by the Iraqi and Syrian military in their operations against insurgents.

'Victory or martyrdom'

On 12 June, al-Iraqiya dedicated its coverage to live news updates and studio discussions with military figures about the "crushing blows" dealt to the militants.

A military commander in the town of Tal Afar said that his forces had been bolstered by armed volunteers ready to fight for "victory or martyrdom".

Al-Iraqiya's coverage also included interviews featuring strong sectarian language, with references to "fidaeyeen", or martyrdom seekers, ready to fight under the banner of Ahl al-Bayt (a Shia reference to the family of the Prophet Muhammad).

The channel's presenters, however, avoided such terms, instead referring to Iraq's unity and sovereignty.

Black Shia banners - similar to Jihadi flags but with slogans pledging alliance to Fatimah (the Prophet's daughter) - were also seen in the coverage.

Pro-Sunni TV

For al-Rafidain TV, the ongoing fighting is part of a "165-day uprising" against the Shia-dominated government.

The channel appears to be very supportive of the cause of the "revolutionaries" and "mujahideen" who it says are fighting to liberate the country.

Image copyright Al-Rafidain TV
Image caption Al-Rafidain is a pro-Sunni TV channel which supports the militants

Nationalist music is regularly played and footage of masked men on the front lines is a recurring motif.

Al-Rafidain TV refers to the Iraqi army as al-Maliki's army. It makes no mention of the ISIS, instead referring to the General Military Council of the Revolutionaries of Iraq - which echoes the name taken by Libyan revolutionaries in the 2011 uprising against Muammar Gaddafi.

Media war

In a live discussion programme about the fall of the city of Mosul on al-Iraqiya, the presenter slammed unnamed media outlets and personalities for their "stupidity" in circulating rumours over what took place in the city.

A Shia cleric portrayed the ISIS as a group of foreign Islamist militants intent on taking women as concubines. He said the rebels were "Takfiris" (those who call other Muslims infidels) and "Salafis" who are in league with former members of the Baath Party of ex-President Saddam Hussein.

Meanwhile, al-Rafidain TV warned residents of Samarra that government forces would try to blow up the Shia shrines in the city and blame rebels for their destruction, with the intention of stoking ethnic tensions.

The partisan media coverage seen over the past few days can only serve to exacerbate the fierce tensions within this divided country.

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. For more reports from BBC Monitoring, click here. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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