A delegation of journalists’ leaders led by the International Federation of Journalists is visiting Iraq this week to prepare a programme of support for journalists in the country.
Journalists leaders from Egypt, Jordan, Britain, France, Yemen and Tunisia are part of the delegation, jointly established with the Federation of Arab Journalists, which will make a week-long visit to Baghdad and the north of the country with the aim of establishing an action programme to strengthen unity among journalists and to create the framework for a new national journalists’ union.
“This is a solidarity mission,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, who is leading the delegation. “Journalism in Iraq has been brutalised over the years and the media find themselves under tremendous pressure as the country struggles for independence, democracy and a peaceful future.”
The mission also signals the launch of a series of safety training workshops this week for Iraqi journalists and foreign reporters working in Baghdad. “Our first priority will be to ensure that Iraqi journalists are able to work in relative safety and to focus on the need to provide protection for journalists on the front-line,” said White. The safety training is being organised by the International News Safety Institute (INSI), the global news safety group specialising in assistance to journalists working in dangerous areas.
The mission, agreed by the IFJ and the FAJ, which represents Arab journalists throughout the Middle East and North Africa, follows an historic agreement signed in Rabat, Morocco, in April last year when journalists’ groups agreed to work together to promote union building in journalism and press freedom in post-war Iraq.
It takes place as the post-war Governing Council has taken steps to try to censor some of the reporting in the country which is critical of the US occupation and which it believes my be incitement to further violence. Newspapers have been told not to use words such as “Jihad” and “resistance” and the satellite channel Al-Arabiya has been suspended from working in Baghdad because of its reporting.
“Iraqi media have the right to report from all sides – including those deeply opposed to the current administration. That may offend some people, but it should not be an excuse for censorship,” said White. The IFJ insists that there should be professionalism in media and respect for independent journalism from the authorities.
“Democracy will not be built upon censorship and attempts to control the media message. Instead, we need to build a structure for professionalism and self-regulation that will put control of media content where it belongs – in the hands of journalists and media professionals.”
The mission will consider with Iraqi journalists how to encourage the creation of a union structure to represent all journalists, built upon principles of press freedom, self-determination and freedom of association.
“It is urgently necessary for Iraqi journalists to speak with one voice to demand media independence, professionalism and fundamental social rights for those who work in media,” said White.
During the week, the delegation will talk to officials of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the Governing Council, journalists’ leaders and a range of media representatives in Baghdad and Erbil in the north where the IFJ has a member organisation, the Kurdistan Association of Journalists.
“The challenge will be to create a unified national approach among journalists. Divisions in journalism and media dependence upon political structures only weaken media. Iraqi journalists need to stick together, to speak with one voice and to ensure that their views are at the table when decisions about the future of media are being taken. Our aim is to see how the international journalists’ community can help them to achieve that,” said White.
Last year the IFJ issued a highly critical report of the US military in Iraq – Justice Denied on the Road to Baghdad – and has called for changes in international humanitarian law to increase protection for journalists.
Further Information: Contact Robert Shaw 0032 2 235 2207 or 0032 496 205 447
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries