IFJ Says Iraq Elections “Pipe Dream of Deluded Politicians” As Media Face New Pressure

The idea of free and fair elections in Iraq any time soon is a ‘pipe-dream’ unless all restrictions on journalists are lifted immediately said the International Federation of Journalists today. The Federation is demanding urgent news about the US detention of an Arab television correspondent and has condemned the interim Iraqi government for trying to censor the media in a new directive from Baghdad.

“Journalists already struggle to report freely in dangerous conditions,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “But the atmosphere is made infinitely worse when occupation armies and the authorities try to muscle the media through diktat and arbitrary detention.”

The IFJ called for the release of Abdel Kader Al-Saadi, a correspondent for Al-Arabiya television, who was reportedly arrested in Falluja a week ago. The journalist stayed in the city to cover the fighting and gave himself up to American forces. Al-Arabiya say he was picked up by US forces. The company has already suffered heavy losses in Iraq. Eight employees have died since March 2003, three killed by the American army in an incident which the IFJ says is still to be fully explained.

The IFJ says Al-Saadi was wearing clear “press” markings at the time of his arrest and should be released immediately. “It is intolerable that he should still be in custody. We cannot ignore the possibility that he is being intimidated for just trying to do his job,” said White.

Meanwhile, the Federation has also sharply condemned the interim Iraqi authority over a new directive telling news media to reflect the government's positions in their reports. The order comes in a statement released by the government regulatory Media High Commission which instructed journalists not to attach "patriotic descriptions to groups of killers and criminals," and asked the media to "set aside space in news coverage to make the position of the Iraqi government, which expresses the aspirations of most Iraqis, clear." If media do not comply the statement threatens: “We will be forced to take all the legal measures to guarantee higher national interests.”

“Although the commission cites the 60-day state of emergency,” said White, “this is an ominous development and suggests newspapers and television are going to face strong-arm tactics from the authorities to tow their line.”

The IFJ says that the Iraqi authorities, who closed the Baghdad office of the satellite television channel Al-Jazeera and barred the station from newsgathering in Iraq after deeming its coverage to be against the Iraqi people and government, continue to be intolerant of independent journalism.

“In such circumstances the idea that free and fair elections can be held in the coming weeks is the pipe-dream of deluded politicians” said White.

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries