The International Federation of Journalists, joined by the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate and the Kurdish Journalists Syndicate, today launched a global campaign to end the terrifying ordeal of journalists in Iraq where at least 129 media staff have been killed and hundreds more injured or disabled in what has become the deadliest media war in modern history.
The General Secretary of the IFJ, Aidan White, speaking to journalists in Dubai, said the campaign was backed by journalists’ groups across the Middle East and North Africa, as well as throughout the IFJ’s international network.
“Iraqi journalists are the real heroes of this war,” said White. “Every day they take risks and make sacrifices that must be recognised in the crucial fight for freedom and democracy in Iraq,” he said.
On June 15th – Iraq’s National Day of the Press – there will be demonstrations in Iraq and around the region to highlight what the IFJ says is the “unspeakable suffering” of media in a country where press freedom is close to extinction because of ruthless extremists and targeting of journalists by warring factions.
“On this day journalists around the world will honour the memory of those we have lost, we will focus attention on the urgent humanitarian needs of survivors and grieving families, and we will reinforce our demands for action from governments to reduce the risks journalists face,” he said.
The campaign was initiated by a meeting of the IFJ’s Middle East affiliates in Beirut last month and has the backing of the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate, the Kurdistan Journalists Syndicate in Iraq, the Federation of Arab Journalists and the Association of Journalists in the United Arab Emirates, which hosted the launch conference in Dubai’s Media City.
“No journalist and no journalists’ group in the world is untouched by the routine intimidation of media and the rising death toll in Iraq,” said White. “We mourn, but we also demand action to end this slaughter.”
The IFJ has counted 129 media victims since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, while the satellite channel Al-Arabiya puts the figure at 144. Other groups, who do not include killed media support staff in their numbers, have lower figures.
“But this is not a numbers game,” said White. “What is undeniable is that more media staff have been murdered and killed in this war than in any other modern conflict. And most of the victims, more than 100, are Iraqis.”
White said that while some media were able to pull their people out of the country to reduce the risks, leaving was not an option for Iraqis or for major media. Foreign media reporting in Iraq rely heavily upon Iraqi journalists to provide the vital information, film footage and editorial material that make up much of the world’s daily media coverage of the war, he said.
White said that the June 15th Day of Action had three aims:
- To provide humanitarian assistance through an international appeal in support of the Iraqi journalists who are the victims of violence and their families;
- To express solidarity through the creation of an International Committee for the Defence of Journalists in Iraq backed by national journalists’ unions and associations around the world;
- To put added pressure on the international community to do more to assist Iraqi journalists.
On that day an appeal backed by more than 100 leaders of unions, associations and syndicates of journalists will publicise the crisis and will send messages of support to the IFJ’s two Iraqi affiliates as well as calling on their own governments to intervene to press for more action over a media crisis which says the IFJ remains largely invisible to many politicians.
Yesterday, speaking in a televised debate in Abu Dhabi, White challenged Iraq Foreign Minister Hoshayar Zebari who denied Iraqi journalists were being targeted. “It is just not acceptable to deny the intolerable reality of journalists selectively picked out of crowds and shot or devastating car bombs deliberately placed outside media houses,” he said.
“What we need from governments, in Baghdad, Washington and London, and collectively gathered in New York, is less denial and more recognition that they can do more to highlight this crisis and to help Iraqi journalists.”
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The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in over 110 countries