International journalists today welcomed a climb-down by a top Defense Department official who had earlier attacked journalists in Iraq for being “afraid”, but the International Federation of Journalists says the incident reflects profound hostility within the administration of President Bush towards media reporting from the region.
“Since this war began the White House has been guilty of ignorance and inhumanity regarding the work of journalists,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “We are still waiting for the US authorities to carry out credible investigations into the killings of journalists and media staff by its troops.”
The IFJ welcomed the apology to correspondents in Iraq from the United States Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz, who accused them of publishing rumours and of being afraid to leave Baghdad in testimony he gave to the House Armed Services Committee in Washington.
His comments caused outrage among journalists many of whom have faced danger and come under pressure from press officers within the US occupation administration in Baghdad to provide more positive coverage of the conflict.
“We have seen many of our colleagues killed in Iraq,” said White. “We know that they strive for professionalism in a hostile atmosphere where there are few adequate sources of information. This accusation displays, once again, arrogance, insensitivity and a wilful disregard of the facts on the part of US leaders.”
He cited an example from last year when, months after US troops had fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad killing two journalists, US Secretary of State Colin Powell wrote to the Spanish Government over one of the victims, cameraman José Couso, alleging US troops had been fired upon from the hotel – despite eye-witness evidence from scores of journalists that this was not true.
The IFJ also accused Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defence, of unsubstantiated and persistent attacks on journalists working for Arab media in Iraq, particularly satellite channels Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, over the past year.
“There has been a pattern of official hostility and misinformation regarding the work of media of which the Wolfowitz evidence is the latest example,” said White. “It’s time for a new approach. One apology is not enough, we need to a sea-change in the attitudes that lead to such unwarranted attacks.”
The IFJ is pressing for independent investigations of incidents in which 12 journalists and media staff have been killed at the hands of US troops. Among those supporting the IFJ calls were media trades unionists including the IFJ affiliates in the US, the Newspaper Guild-CWA, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the National Writers’ Union, and the Writers Guild of America (East), with 6,000 signed petitions.
The cases include José Couso of Telecinco and Reuters cameraman Taras Protsiuk killed in the attack on the Palestine Hotel; reporter Tareq Ayyoub, killed when the offices of Al-Jazeera were attacked; ITN journalist Terry Lloyd and his two missing colleagues Fred Nérac and Hussein Osman, killed in a firefight near Basra; Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana, killed outside Abu Grahib prison; Al-Arabiya journalists Ali Abdel Aziz and Ali al-Khatib killed by US fire in Baghdad; Al-Iraqiya TV Correspondent Asaad Kadhim and driver Hussein Saleh, killed after American forces opened fire on them near Samara; Al-Jazeera media staffer Hamid Rashid Wali, shot dead during clashes between the US Army and Shiite militia of Moqtada al-Sadr.
“The failure to establish exactly how and why our colleagues died casts a long shadow over the Iraq war and is a test of the US commitment to democracy and transparency,” said White. The IFJ has produced a report – Justice Denied on the Road to Baghdad – calling for further protection for journalists in battle zones.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries