UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
IRAQ: Journalists call for greater freedom
BAGHDAD, 16 June 2005 (IRIN) - Iraqi journalists called for greater press freedom and respect for their profession at a conference held in the capital, Baghdad on 14-15 June.
The event was organised by the independent Iraqi National Communication and Media Commission (INCMC), following reported cases of abuse of journalists. The body was formed after the fall of the former government in April 2003.
The conference, entitled "A new future for media in Iraq", involved discussions held under six subject headings; democracy, journalist’s rights, security issues, freedom in writing, transparency and the history of journalism in Iraq.
"The rights of Iraqi journalists should be recognised by the government as well as the international forces in the country. This conference is a big step in the search for their rights in a legal way," president of the INCMC, Mufid Jazaire, said.
Documentary videos were shown during the meeting, showing testimonies of Iraqi and foreign journalists, speaking about their experiences of working under dangerous conditions and being targeted by both insurgents and Coalition forces.
According to the INCMC, 29 journalists have been killed since the 2003 war and 56 have been kidnapped by different factions within the country.
The names of those killed in the course of their professional duties were displayed during the conference and were remembered with a one minute silence.
During Saddam Hussein's regime, only five newspapers were printed in the country and then only after approval from the Iraqi government. In addition, reception of satellite TV transmissions was banned.
Today more than 100 newspapers are in circulation and hundreds of TV channels received via satellite. Even so, concerns about censorship were still voiced.
"Dozens of journalists have been censored, especially those that show the reality and bad action taken by security forces in the country," Hashen Mahsen, president of the Organisation for the Defence of Journalists Rights (ODJR), said.
Nearly 200 journalists attended the event, which also included proposals for a quality control commission to be established to monitor reports and prevent the media from transmitting inaccurate information.
Journalists from northern Iraq asked for a review of press laws in the region, saying that they were still being censored. The Commission promised to assist and increase press freedom in the north of the country.
The conference ended with an address from the director of the BBC’s Arabic service in Iraq, Safa'a Saleh, who brought to mind the suffering and terror experienced by many journalists working in the country.
"Iraqi and foreign journalists have been suffering with attacks and threats from many sources. It's the biggest opportunity for them to call for their rights and bring a brilliant and free journalism to the new democratic Iraq," he said.
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