Press Watchdog 'Deeply Disturbed' by Iraqi Regime’s
leading U.S.-based press watchdog says it is "deeply disturbed"
by a directive issued last week by the Iraqi interim government's
new media commission that warned the press operating in Iraq to
reflect the government's position in fighting by U.S., coalition,
and Iraqi forces against insurgents.
The warning came in a statement released Thursday by the government's
Higher Media Commission (HMC), which was created by interim Prime
Minister Iyad Allawi last summer and is headed by a senior member
of Allawi's Iraqi National Accord (INA) party, Ibrahim Janabi, a
former intelligence agent for ousted President Saddam Hussein's
the 60-day state of emergency declared by Allawi on the eve of the
U.S. offensive against insurgents in Fallujah, the HMC directive
said news media must differentiate between "innocent citizens"
of the city and the insurgents.
warned that journalists should not attach "patriotic descriptions
to groups of killers and criminals," and urged the media to
"set aside space in your news coverage to make the position
of the Iraqi government, which expresses the aspirations of most
must be precise and objective in handling news and information,"
according to the statement, which was reported by Associated Press
and Reuters. "We hope you comply
otherwise we regret
we will be forced take all the legal measures to guarantee higher
national interests," it said, without elaboration.
New York-based Committee to Protect
Journalists (CPA) said it was "deeply disturbed" by
are very troubled by this directive, which is an attempt to control
news coverage through government coercion," said CPJ's executive
director, Ann Cooper. "It damages the government's credibility
in establishing a free and democratic society."
recalled that the commission was created shortly before the Qatar-based
satellite television station al-Jazeera was barred for one month
from newsgathering in Iraq, although it was not clear that the commission
had a role in that decision. The ban against al-Jazeera has since
been extended indefinitely.
existence of the HMC was first disclosed in the international press
by the Financial Times, which reported that the panel was
planning to move into "the old information ministry building,
which is undergoing refurbishment," amid hopeful speculation
by former employees of the ministry that they may reclaim jobs that
had been axed by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) last
the time, Janabi told the Times that the state broadcasting
company would be absorbed by the HMC, which would also advise an
independent media committee established by the CPA. The HMC's specific
responsibilities have not yet been publicly established, however,
and its directive last week bore the letterhead of Allawi's office.
language of the HMC statement suggested that the order was tied
to the 60-day state of emergency that applies to all of Iraq except
the northern Kurdish provinces.
the HMC was first announced, both CPJ and the Paris-based Reporters
Without Borders (RSF) expressed concern. The latter suggested
that the commission may have been set up to ban "certain criticism
of the prime minister."
groups wrote to Allawi, asking him to "clarify the role and
functions" of the commission and "ensure that any official
regulation of the media conforms with international standards for
a free press."
the time, Allawi's spokesman, George Sada, said without elaboration
that it was created "to organize the work of the media."
months before, the government had temporary banned both al-Jazeera
and another Arab satellite station, al-Arabiya, from working in
mid-July, on the other hand, Allawi issued a directive permitting
the reopening of al-Hawza, a controversial weekly magazine
linked to Moqtada Sadr, which had been closed by the CPA the previous
March. Its closure helped spark a month of violence by Sadr's Mehdi
militia against the occupation forces in predominantly Shi'a southern
part of the country and in Sadr City, a district of some 2 million
people in Baghdad.
the Iraqi press has enjoyed unprecedented freedom since Hussein's
ouster, it has also found itself under great pressure from a range
of interests, including political parties, the interim government,
insurgents, and coalition forces themselves.
50 journalists and media professionals have been killed since the
U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March, 2003, although most died in
combat situations. Several have been kidnapped, others detained
and, in some cases, mistreated by armed groups, including coalition
Saturday, the Syrian driver and interpreter, Mohammed Al-Joundi,
for two French journalists, Christian Chesnot and George Malbrunot,
who were kidnapped more than a month ago, was discovered by U.S.
forces in a building in Fallujah where he had apparently been held
since the kidnap.
said, however, that he had been separated from the two reporters
at the time of his capture and did not know their fate.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 One World