New IFJ Demand for Inquiry As Deadly Missile Strike Highlights US Role in Iraq Media Killings

The International Federation of Journalists today backed protests by journalists in the Palestinian territories over the killing yesterday of Mazen Al-Tomaizi, a television journalist, when a United States helicopter fired on a crowd in Baghdad after insurgents attacked a military vehicle.

The IFJ says that the anger of Palestinian journalists over the killing – which was witnessed by millions on television footage – is understandable. “Once again, a working journalist, carrying nothing more dangerous than a microphone is shot dead in the streets without any satisfactory explanation,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “This tragedy reinforces our demands for justice for journalists who have been killed in Iraq by so-called ‘friendly-fire.’”

Since the invasion of Iraq last year, the IFJ says that 13 journalists and media staff have been killed in incidents that have not been satisfactorily explained. “We need a detailed, independent inquiry and answers to hard questions into this and every other case where our colleagues have been killed,” said White. “So far there has been a series of white-wash reports in which soldiers have cleared themselves of any responsibility. It is wholly unacceptable.”

Mazen Al-Tomaizi, a freelance television reporter working for Saudi news channel Al-Ekhbariya and Arab satellite channel Al-Arabiya, died when he was struck by an American missile as he was reporting live from Baghdad on clashes between US forces and insurgents. He is the fourth Palestinian journalist to be killed in Iraq.

The helicopter fired as people gathered round a military vehicle set ablaze in a car bomb attack. The US military said two helicopters opened fire after coming under attack from the crowd. However, television footage of the incident showed no evidence of shooting from the ground.

The killing brings the number of journalists and media staff killed since the war began to 52, and came as Palestinian media staff were told that the Israeli government is to change policy over a controversial ban on Palestinian journalists being granted press cards.

In January 2002 the IFJ protested when Israeli government press services banned Palestinian reporters from receiving the official card, which gave them the right to travel in Israeli-controlled areas. New rules are to be announced that will cover Palestinian working for the foreign media and local media. The change follows a High Court ruling earlier this year ordering the Government Press Office to grant press cards to Reuters reporter Ahmed Sayyaf and journalists working for the Al-Jazeera satellite channel. The Court criticised the GPO for refusing to issue press cards to Palestinian journalists because of the intifada.

“This was an attempt to stigmatise all Palestinian journalists as potential terrorists,” said White. “It has been an appalling act of discrimination.” The IFJ says it will reserve judgement on the new approach until the new rules are published in the coming days. “Nevertheless, it appears to be a step forward,” said White.

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries