Iraq on Monday suspended the operations of U.S.-funded Alhurra television after it broadcast a report alleging corruption in the country's Sunni and Shi'ite religious institutions.
The 12-minute documentary aired Saturday, claiming that the religious authorities were misusing state funds in administering religious sites and real estate.
The country's Communications and Media Commission accused the network of bias and defamation, saying the report lacked professionalism, balance and reliable evidence. It ordered the satellite network, which broadcasts reports in Arabic in the Middle East and North Africa, to halt its activities "until it corrects its position" and apologizes.
"These steps are tantamount to a final warning to the station, and a tougher punishment will be taken in case this offense is repeated," the statement said.
Both Sunni and Shi'ite officials attacked the television report. The Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force, founded in 2014 by an edict from the top Shi'ite religious authority in Iraq Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, accused Alhurra of having "a hostile news policy."
Iraq's Sunni religious establishment claimed the report was full of "lies."
The U.S. Agency for Global Media, the Washington-based news operation that includes Alhurra and Voice of America, defended the report as a "fair, balanced and professional report on the allegations of corruption" in Iraq.
It said that "during the extensive preparations of the report over time, individuals and institutions involved were given the right of reply, which they declined. We still offer those same institutions the opportunity to reply."
USAGM said the television network "is committed to fair and professional journalism in Arabic throughout the region. Given the major political, economic and social challenges the region faces, there is a need for greater transparency and honesty, not less."
Iraq is currently ranked near the bottom of Reporters Without Borders' media freedom index, 156th out of 180 countries, because of arbitrary detention and intimidation of journalists by militias and pro-government groups.