More than 40 leaders of Iraqi journalism – editors, union leaders, university lecturers and other media experts – have called for action to strengthen free expression and democratic rights in the stalled talks over a new constitution.
At a conference today in the Jordanian capital Amman, media professionals agreed a charter of basic rights for a democratic media culture in Iraq, and demanded that legislators working on a draft of a new constitution make a serious commitment to free expression rights and free journalism.
The constitution should make "a clear and frank reference to the important role of the media and the need to guarantee freedom of expression and the rights of journalists to work without interference," said participants at the conference organised by the International Federation of Journalists with the support of UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency.
The conference declaration reflects growing concern among journalists that promises of democratic reform are threatened by deadlock in negotiations over a new constitution, in which the rights of women and regional autonomy are major points of disagreement. The text will be submitted to the people in a national referendum later this year.
"The state should protect free expression, guarantee the freedom of journalists and journalism within the media, and pursue all violators of these rights," said the journalists who called on the authorities "to guarantee independence of all media including non-governmental, public service media, financed by public money."
The conference said that media should reflect pluralism of thought, politics, ethnicity, religion and culture. "Reference in the constitution to free expression is worthless if the state does not provide the means to protect and enforce this right," said the participants, "particularly at a time when Iraq is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists and media staff and where dozens have been killed or kidnapped."
Leaders from all Iraq's journalists' groups as well as leading editors and leaders of a new union of radio stations, the first media employers' group set up in the country, were joined by media experts, journalism trainers and trades unionists from abroad for the three-day conference which agreed a wide-ranging programme of action and adopted a charter of rights for democratic media.
"This conference is proof that violence and extremism have not killed off the spirit of independence in Iraqi journalism," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, who chaired the meeting. "Democracy will not work without free media and the network of solidarity launched here, which includes journalists from all sections of Iraqi society, shows that media professionals will fight for their rights every step of the way."
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries