Iraq Drift to Civil War a “Catastrophe for Journalism” Warns IFJ After New Killings

The International Federation of Journalists today warned that the escalating violence in Iraq, which has seen a number of journalists killed in recent days, is forcing all media – both local and international – into hiding, with increasing lawlessness and violence not being properly covered.

“We are witnessing a catastrophe for journalism as media organisations are forced to pull their people off the streets,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “It is impossible to have independent coverage when media staff are being gunned down in this brutal conflict.”

The IFJ was speaking after gunmen yesterday kidnapped and killed a correspondent for Al Arabiya television and two members of her crew in Iraq. Police found the bodies of reporter Atwar Bahjat, her cameraman Adnan Khairallah and soundman Khaled Mohsen on the outskirts of Samarra which was the scene of sectarian violence.

“Atwar was a very well known figure and very brave journalist, aware of the risks that she was encountering for such an exposure” said Hayet Zeghiche, IFJ Project Officer. “She loved her job so much and had to accept dangerous assignments as she had to look after her family after the death of her father”.

Atwar Bahjat joined Al Arabiya just two months ago after she received death threats when working for the rival network al-Jazeera. The Doha-based network al-Jazeera, which became critical of the Shia leader Al-Sistani after the December elections, had been attracting the threats and anger of extremist groups and Ms. Bahjat thought her new appointment at al-Arabyia satellite channel would be safer.

All three victims were Iraqis who had been covering the aftermath of the bombing of a Shi'ite shrine in the city. An Al Arabiya official said the team were targeted and set upon by gunmen. The station says that eight Al Arabiya employees have died in Iraq since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The IFJ says that around 109 journalists and media staff have been killed in the country since the 2003 invasion. At the same time their have been a number of kidnappings and three media staff – Jill Carroll of the Christian Science Monitor, and the two Iraqi journalists Rim Zeid and Marwan Khazaal of Sumariya TV – are currently being held.

“The fact is that the Iraq story is becoming impossible to cover,” said White. “Foreign correspondents are forced to take cover in hotel bunkers or secure accommodation while local staff, mostly Iraqis, are trying to provide film coverage or get on the spot information in an increasingly violent atmosphere.”

But the latest killings indicate that any form of reporting is now “well-nigh impossible.” As a result says the IFJ, there is intimidation and kidnapping taking place which is not being reported at all.

“One of the saddest thing is these terrible statistics are far from reflecting what is really happening in the country” said Zeghiche. “The kidnapping or murder of low profile Iraqi journalists never makes the headlines of international news”.

The IFJ says that five media staff have been killed in recent weeks and last year the Federation recorded 35 deaths among journalists and media staff.

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The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in over 110 countries