IFJ Warns Coalition of “Backlash” Over Plans to Impose Controls on Iraqi Journalists

The International Federation of Journalists today warned coalition forces in Baghdad not to “stifle alternative voices” in media by imposing a code of conduct on reporters that has not been endorsed by Iraqi journalists.

Responding to reports from Baghdad that coalition officials plan to impose a code of conduct on journalists, the IFJ today said attempts to regulate journalism in Iraq will backfire unless they meet international standards and are supported by Iraqi media professionals.

“Without meaningful consultation there may well be a backlash causing resentment among Iraqi journalists that will hinder efforts to build a democratic society,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. The IFJ warns that trying to control media will smack of censorship and confirm the fear of many that this is occupation not liberation.

“Unless Iraqi colleagues are fully involved in setting the standards for journalism a rush to regulate will hinder efforts to build a free and independent media community. The priority must be to place journalism firmly in the hands of media people themselves, not to impose rules that will undermine an emerging democratic process,” said White.

The IFJ says that previous experience – in Bosnia, for example, where, like Iraq, there are deep community divisions based on religious and ethnic differences – is that journalists should be brought together to agree themselves the rules and standards for ethical conduct.

Earlier this week, the IFJ joined with other professional groups and media experts who met in Athens under the auspices of the Greek Presidency of the European Union and US State Department to discuss plans for developing a new media landscape for Iraq, a country with deep divisions on religious and ethnic grounds. Independently, coalition officials in Iraq have been drawing up their own plans to regulate media.

“This is the first we have heard about a plan to impose a code on journalists,” said the IFJ. “It’s clear that there is confusion, a lack of coherent strategy including a failure to consult widely within the media community.”

In Athens, the IFJ says some useful proposals were made that involve empowering Iraqi media in defining a new media landscape for the country. “Other meetings have been held including a ground-breaking meeting of journalists leaders from the Arab world and the IFJ in Rabat in April this year when joint actions in support of Iraqi media were agreed,” said White.

The IFJ says that the explosion of new titles and media in Baghdad is a sign that journalists and independent media want to shake off the traditions of press control under the regime of Saddam Hussein when media were controlled by the government and his son ran the journalists’ union.

Concerns over inflammatory journalism that may include incitement to violence and opposition to the Coalition’s role in post-war Iraq should not lead to imposition of inflexible controls on media says the IFJ. “Iraqi journalists themselves should be empowered to take the lead in combating unprofessionalism – this is not a job for generals and administrators,” said White.

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

See also: Rabat Declaration, April 2003