Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat- Iraq has been unanimously rated as the most dangerous place for journalists, according to reports issued by various institutions concerned with international media affairs and the safety of media personnel, including Reporters Without Borders.
According to the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory in Iraq (JFO), since the beginning of the Iraq war launched by the US-led Coalition forces in April 2003: 232 Iraqi and foreign reporters have been killed, including 127 reporters and 52 media technicians and assistants – all of whom were killed because of their work in the field.
Moreover, ambiguity shrouds other criminal operations that indirectly target reporters and media technicians who were targeted for reasons other than their journalistic work, 62 were abducted and most of them were killed, while 14 reporters are still missing according to the same source.
JFO figures indicate that there are various parties responsible for these deaths, including 178 deaths caused by unidentified gunmen or militias, 32 deaths as a result of bombing operations carried out by unidentified culprits while 19 reporters were killed by US fire and two reporters were killed by Iraqi forces.
Head of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, Ziad al Ajeely told Asharq Al-Awsat that during the early days of the fall of the regime there was a wide-ranging abundance of newspapers and magazines that were soon followed by radio stations and satellite channels. He cites all of these as the cause – mainly driven by political reasons – for the obliteration of taboos and the ongoing race between various political parties. Al Ajeely added that whilst some outlets are simply seeking expression, others are focused on political propaganda to serve political ends or to even execute foreign agendas. There are also those who have penetrated these circles in hope of gaining fame and stature or exploiting the media as a means of gaining profit.
As for the press law, al Ajeely disclosed that there is an absence of views on the nature of this law in light of the pluralistic democratic regime, he said. “There are some in various professional, parliamentary and governmental posts who still fall victim to totalitarian ideology in media and culture, and thus call for laws that restrict the JFO’s freedom of expression. They are raising the matter with the concerned parties, which is not promising news,” he disclosed.
Al Ajeely pointed out that the JFO hoped to draft and implement a transparency law (the right to access information), which is a modern law that exists in the majority of developed countries. This law gives reporters, and even ordinary citizens, the right to obtain critical and necessary information related to their lives and future.
In response to the accusation leveled against the Iraqi Journalists’ Union for its negligence to demand the protection of Chairman of the Union, the late Shihab al Timimi who was assassinated last February, Jabbar Tarrad al Shimmari, the new chairman, told Asharq Al-Awsat that it was necessary to become aware the union’s efforts before charging it with negligence.
He revealed: “After we were incapable of creating mechanisms for protection, we called upon the International Federation of Journalists through the Iraqi Media Safety Group (IMSG). The federation and a number of other international organizations and unions responded to our appeal and the result was a meeting that was held in Abril in which representatives from the International Federation of Journalists, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the IMSG, among other press institutions, were in attendance. One of the outcomes of the meeting was that the federation approved setting up three institutions concerned with safety in Arbil, Baghdad and Basra in which reporters are trained to protect themselves by experts, in addition to receiving other journalistic training.”
Another complicated matter is the issue of funding media outlets within a state in which a wide sense of openness prevails – and which is regarded as positive by some. According to al Shimmari, newspapers are issued by political parties, parliamentary blocs and public figures.
He elaborated: “The newspapers issued by political parties are capable of staying in print since they are backed by the parties and thus have immense funds that are obtained from the substantial revenues gained through advertisements – in light of the hegemony exercised by political parties in the state. Contrastingly, the newspapers issued by figures, and this is truly unfortunate, have disappeared. They started appearing during the time of the elections and when the figures in question did not make it to parliament, they disappeared.”
“Here we must also highlight satellite channels which are problematic. Same as newspapers have funding, satellite channels have an abundance of financial support and yet there are some that do not receive any. We have proposed the establishment of a coordination office to distribute advertisements amongst them [satellite channels] and the proposal is currently being examined by the government. We hope to approve so that it may enable us to back the institutions that deserve to be supported, especially the independent ones,” he added.
Al Shimmari also pointed out an important concern, “There are various press institutions that receive foreign financial backing that is rejected by the union. There are states that have special agendas and thus support these institutions to serve certain goals – but we condemn such orientations. We have issued various statements against this and have called for an investigation to look into the management of such institutions.”