UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
IRAQ: Iraqi journalists complain of censorship
BAGHDAD, 29 May 2005 (IRIN) - Iraqi journalists say they are being censored by the US-led Coalition forces and the Iraqi government because of the topics covered by them in newspapers and on television.
The Iraqi Association of Journalists (IAJ) said they have been accused of collaborating with insurgents after trying to report on both sides of the ongoing conflict.
Based on the IAJ information, eight journalists have been detained since March 2005 by US forces, accused of being a security risk to the Iraqi people and the military.
Two of the journalists detained by US forces had written articles on the lives of insurgents, after having spent days shadowing them.
"We were living without press freedom during Saddam Hussein's regime and today there is not much difference. Journalists are being held by US forces for doing their job when they write about opposing views," Kamal Aidan, a senior official from the IAJ, told IRIN in Baghdad.
In addition, Aidan pointed out that 85 journalists and media staff have been killed in Iraq since March 2003. Of this number, some 62 were Iraqis. The total also included 14 deaths at the hands of US troops, which encouraged the IAJ, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) to demand independent reports on the circumstances.
"Journalists are not just being targeted verbally or politically, they are also being targeted for real in Iraq. The ignorance and immaturity of the US military which does not make differences [differentiate] between the insurgents and the press has been adopted brutally against the media in our country," Ahmed Abdul-Satar, an Iraqi journalist working for a French media organisation, told IRIN.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) called for measures to improve the safety of journalists in April.
“Journalists working in Iraq have shown impressive courage in carrying out their professional duty to collect and disseminate information,” UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura said after a cameraman was killed and a reporter wounded as they arrived at the scene of an explosion in Mosul, northern Iraq, on 23 April.
Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, A spokesperson for US forces, told IRIN that journalists arrested were considered a security risk and that security forces did not retain people without a reason.
The IFJ is also demanding that US forces and Iraqi authorities free the eight Iraqi journalists, most of whom are working for Western media.
"These arrests were without formal charges and they do not have the right to do that. Journalism in Iraq is in a very deep crisis and these people should be released immediately as it has been considered an injustice against the freedom of journalists around the world," Aidan White, IFJ's general secretary, told IRIN.
"We cannot write with freedom anymore because if you write against them [US forces and Iraqi government] you are going to be considered automatically against them and face the possibility of being closed down. The safety of journalists and press freedom should be at the top of the agenda for action in the coming months to guarantee our freedom in writing and transmitting true news," editor of a local Iraqi newspaper called al-Baghdadi, Abdullah Kareem, told IRIN.
On the other hand, some also complained they were censored by insurgents. Threats have been sent to many Iraqis working with the Western media or because some people believed their articles were skewed against local insurgency groups.
"We are in a country where you do not know who is your friend and who is your enemy. We are in a middle of a battle where you have to take the risk to transmit true information and to fight for our rights, no matter if your enemy is the resistance against the US troops," Aidan said.
Theme(s): (IRIN) Other
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