Monday, 10 August 2009

As Threat of Violence Still Looms Large over the Media in Iraq, another Menace Emerges in Form of Draft Law to ‘Protect’ Journalists

Iraq Still the Most Dangerous Country in the World for Reporters 

As U.S. troops continue to hand power over to Iraqi authorities in Iraq, IPI calls on the Iraqi government to protect press freedom in the country. Iraq remains the most dangerous country in the world for journalists – who now face a new threat in the form of a draft law published in Iraq on Friday 31 July, according to news reports.

Ostensibly designed to ‘safeguard’ journalists’ rights, the draft law does contain some provisions that should help protect journalists in Iraq. It equates an attack on a reporter to an attack on a government employee, and maintains that journalists cannot be pressured into publishing material that is incompatible with their beliefs, opinions or conscience.

However, the draft legislation also contains worrying provisions that could have a negative impact on media freedom.

For example, vague wording prohibiting journalists from “compromising the security and stability of the country” may be used to stifle valid criticism. Such words are reminiscent of legislation in place in a host of countries with poor records on media freedom which broadly and unfairly interpret terms like ‘compromising security’ to snuff out and punish virtually any form of criticism of government and state interests.

The draft law also contains a dispiriting message on the protection of sources, which would be guaranteed unless “the law requires the source to be revealed” – in other words there is no guaranteed protection for sources.

The bill also stipulates that freedom of the press can be suspended if a publication threatens citizens or makes “provocative or aggressive statements” – again, a vaguely worded phrase leaving much room for interpretation.

“While we welcome the positive aspects of this draft law, we call on the Iraqi parliament to remove those sections that could hinder media freedom in the country,” said Michael Kudlak, IPI Deputy Director. “A free and unfettered press is one of the most vital elements in any fledgling democracy, so Iraqi politicians must ensure that the media is free to work with the minimum restraint.”

In recent years, Iraq has been one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, with at least 169 journalists killed in the line of duty over the last seven years, according to IPI’s figures – many of them Iraqis murdered in the sectarian violence that has ravaged the country.    

On Friday 7 August, Iraqi journalists expressed fear at again being targeted, following a fiery sermon by a prominent Shiite cleric, Jalal Eddin Saghir, allegedly inciting violence against a journalist.  

Eddin Saghar had apparently taken issue with the journalist linking his political party, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, to a July bank robbery in Baghdad.