IFJ Condemns Iraq Over Al Jazeera Ban and Issues Baghdad Safety Alert After BBC Death

The International Federation of Journalists today expressed fears over the situation of journalists working in Baghdad after the banning of Al-Jazeera television and news of another media death, in Northern Iraq, when a cameraman was killed by a landmine.

In a statement condemning Iraqi actions against the independent Arab satellite television station Al-Jazeera the IFJ raised new fears for the safety of Baghdad-based reporters. “There is real concern for the safety of all of the journalists, particularly those in Baghdad,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. The IFJ thinks there are up to 500 journalists, many of them part of foreign news networks, reporting from inside the city.

The death of Kaveh Golestan, a Pulitzer Prize winning freelance cameraman who worked for the BBC's Tehran bureau, was a tragedy for journalism, said the IFJ. “But it shows once again that safety is a top priority. We urge all journalists, even veterans, to be extra careful about their movements, even the most experienced colleagues are at risk.” The death brings the number of confirmed media losses to four with a number of journalists still missing.

Meanwhile, the IFJ says that unacceptable political pressure on media continues to grow. The Federation strongly condemned the action by Iraq to ban one Baghdad-based correspondent from the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera channel and asked another to leave.

“The banning is another piece of spiteful censorship by a regime which does not understand the notions of media professionalism, pluralism and democracy,” said Aidan White.

The IFJ protest says Iraq has no respect for any message that is not their own form of propaganda. “The action against Al-Jazeera, following the earlier decision to ban CNN from Baghdad, shows that the regime is intolerant of anything that smacks of professional journalism whatever language or tradition it comes from,” said White.

Al Jazeera has built up a reputation in controversial times with uncensored news, and reporting from the Middle East that has not indulged conspiracy theories, anti-Israel sentiments or obsequious praise for undemocratic regimes. This is in sharp contrast to the content of much of the state-controlled networks in the region.

"We understand the decision of Al Jazeera to suspend its work in Iraq," said White. The IFJ says the ban on reporter Diyar al-Umari, an Iraqi, and the request for visiting correspondent Tayseer Alluni to leave the country "as soon as possible" were unconscionable acts of censorship that threaten all journalists. Al-Jazeera, a satellite channel funded by the Emir of Qatar and other Arab moderates has been one of several Arab channels broadcasting round-the-clock coverage of the war.