More Killings, Death Threats and Closure of Paper Deepen Iraq Media Crisis

More media deaths in Iraq – seven killings that bring the toll since the war began a year ago to close to 40 (38) – and death threats to reporters working for international media have sparked new calls for international solidarity with journalists in Iraq.

The International Federation of Journalists today said journalists’ safety was an “urgent priority” and warned the occupation authorities against actions that “smack of censorship” and further weaken the Iraqi media community.

Yesterday, Nabil al-Jurani, a freelance photographer working for Associated Press was shot and injured by British forces during clashes with Iraqis in Basra. On March 26, Burhan Mohamed Mazhour, a freelance cameraman for the US-based television station ABC was killed in a firefight involving US forces in Falluja and on the same day Omar Kamal, an Iraqi translator working for the newsweekly Time died from injuries sustained two days earlier.

“Journalism in Iraq is struggling to survive in an atmosphere of violence and intimidation,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “Coalition efforts to reform the media landscape will fail unless something is done to provide greater security to people who work in all media.”

The IFJ warns that arbitrary actions by the authorities to stifle opposition media will only make matters worse. On Sunday, coalition authorities shut down the weekly newspaper, Al-Hawza, claiming several articles "were designed to incite violence against coalition forces and incite instability" in Iraq, but the IFJ said that such actions could be counter-productive. “Closures like this smack of censorship and will do nothing to build confidence in a culture of openness,” said White.

Hours after the closure, more than 1,000 supporters of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr demonstrated peacefully in front of the newspaper's offices.

At the same time the occupation authorities have pushed through new media rules to be implemented by the Iraq Communications and Media Commission (ICMC), which will function as an independent regulator for the broadcasting and telecoms sector. The Commission will license broadcasters, manage the frequency spectrum and administer licences granted to mobile telephone operators.

Although the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council says the ICMC will be independent of a future interim government and will not act as a new Information Ministry, the IFJ says that after transition to Iraqi rule such promises will come under pressure.

“There is a window of free expression in Iraq today that must be kept open for the future,” said White. “And that means Iraqi journalists and media people must be given the space to develop their own ethical and professional space outside beyond the hand of political censorship. Above all, they need safe working conditions.”

A recent IFJ mission to Iraq in January, warned that some actions of the occupation authorities undermine efforts to create a confident, secure and professional community of journalists and contribute to divisions within the Iraqi journalism community. The mission called for the withdrawal of measures that try to “discipline, control and censor information.”

Further concerns were raised by the IFJ after the killing less than two weeks ago of Ali Abdel Aziz, an Iraqi cameraman for Al-Arabyia and correspondent Ali al-Khatib by US fire in Baghdad. The IFJ says the failure to properly explain these killings and the death of seven other journalists at the hands of coalition troops since the war began have caused anger among journalists worldwide.

The Federation has called an international day of mourning on 8 April, the anniversary of when US troops opened fire on the Palestine hotel in Baghdad, a media centre, killing two journalists and wounding three others.

For more information on the IFJ Day of Protest on April 8th click here or
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries