Mission to Iraq, January 19th -24th 2003
Baghdad January 24th 2004
On behalf of the International Federation of Journalists and the Federation of Arab Journalists, the largest organisations of journalists world-wide and in the Arab world, which are currently carrying out a mission of solidarity to Iraq in support of Iraqi journalists, we write to express our serious concerns over recent actions, taken in the name of the Governing Council, which undermines efforts to create a democratic media culture in Iraq.
Indeed, we believe that reported attempts to dictate to Iraqi journalists how they must report on the current crisis smack of old-style media manipulation and show contempt for media and free journalism. In particular, we are concerned over the following:
1. The suspension of TV channel Al-Arabya because it broadcast a tape from Saddam Hussein before his arrest. This suspension, of dubious legality, is based on professional concerns, which could and should be resolved by effective dialogue with journalists and editors.
The choice of news items is an editorial matter alone and we note that, in this case, the tape in question was widely broadcast by international media around the world. We respect all concern for fair and responsible journalism, but we believe this sort of interference creates an impression of intrusion and interference that is unacceptable, even in the difficult conditions of Iraq today.
2. Attempts to ban words like “jihad” and “resistance” from the reports of Iraqi journalists. We note that according to reports from the BBC monitoring and Iranian media that a representative of the Council’s Media Committee circulated a media behaviour statement urging media to abstain from using such words in their reports of attacks or acts of violence.
We reject this sort of blatant attempt to define what a journalist may or may not write. Professionalism is created by creating a climate of openness and freedom. We believe more efforts must be made to help journalists gain the confidence to work freely and responsibly. More training, dialogue and provision of reliable sources of information are the key to quality journalism – not arbitrary bans on the dictionary that journalists use.
3. An attempt to get journalists to sign up to an 11-point code of conduct for media drafted without proper consultation with journalists. We have been informed that a code is being circulated with a demand that journalists sign up to the document. But where has this come from and who has prepared it? Ethical matters in journalism are primarily the business of journalists themselves. Only a code drafted by and agreed by editors, journalists and other media creators can command the confidence of the profession.
Most sincerely we believe that the future of Iraqi journalism depends upon the capacity of Iraqi journalists themselves to exercise control over their professional work. That is why we say this code should be withdrawn.
We raise these concerns at a time when there is growing anger among foreign correspondents and local media over the way journalists are being treated by the occupation authorities. One problem is that media and reporters are often treated as hostile elements in society and face an occupation force that has already developed its own sense of impunity when it comes to dealing with reporters in the field.
In recent days we have heard of numerous cases of media harassment. We received a number of complaints from broadcast media, including a list of incidents from Al-Jazeera alone. Additionally, journalists face a massive social crisis following the dismissal of a large number of media staff over the past nine months. We cannot stand aside as the rights of colleagues in Iraq are put under such intolerable pressure.
As it is all journalists work in extremely dangerous conditions, yet precious little has been done to address the crisis of news safety. We are pleased that, on the initiative of the IFJ, this week safety training has been carried out for local journalists and foreign correspondents in Baghdad. Only when the rights of journalists are respected and they work in secure conditions can media play a positive role in building democracy.
We believe there needs to be a new commitment to press freedom and democracy. Journalists need support, not more clumsy attempts to manipulate the media message which appear to support highly controversial political and strategic objectives.”
Our delegation, is examining new initiatives to create a unified national journalists’ movement that will defend social and professional standards.
Media rights and independent journalism must be at the heart of any strategy for democracy and human rights in Iraq, but so far these objectives are largely ignored in favour of political expediency. We believe that approach must change. Because of the importance of these issues we intend to make the contents of this letter public.
International Federation of Journalists
Federation of Arab Journalists