BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – Iraq has threatened to fine journalists covering the Jan. 31 local elections if they report inaccuracies or back any candidate, a move journalists’ groups said could hurt the country’s already beleaguered media.
Media organisations who flout the Communications and Media Commission’s mandatory code of conduct could be landed with a fine, have their equipment confiscated or be forced to make a public apology, said a document obtained by Reuters on Saturday.
“When covering activities of any political entity or any candidate, media outlets should not deliberately pervert the information … or hide it or fabricate it,” the document said.
“In dealing with … political alliances and candidates, media should not be biased towards any.”
Media organisations could have their licences revoked if they fail to pay any fines, according to the document.
Iraq is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, who are routinely targeted by extremists. “We reject this interference,” said Muaid al-Lami, head of the Iraqi Journalists’ Syndicate, who survived an assassination attempt when a bomb detonated outside his office in September. “We agreed journalists should not defame others … but this doesn’t mean we should allow interference in their work,” he said, adding the union was capable of ensuring its members meet ethical standards.
A senior official at press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said the code was unnecessary and open to abuse by Iraq’s government because the terms were so vague.
“It’s absurd, it’s counterproductive, it’s dangerous,” RSF News Editor Leonard Vincent told Reuters by phone from Paris. “The government shouldn’t be … controlling the content of the media.”
Tension is rising as Iraq’s provincial elections approach. Shi’ite parties are vying for dominance of the oil-rich south as Arabs and Kurds compete to control the north.
The polls will redraw the political map by choosing powerful council leaders.