Saturday, January 13, 2007

Jamail & al-Fadhily: Media Under Growing Siege

(MFL notes: I chose this article to reflect on the situation in Iraq. Long live US "Democracy!")

*BAGHDAD, Jan. 10 (IPS) - The U.S. administration continues to tout Iraq as a shining example of democracy in the Middle East, but press freedom in Iraq has plummeted since the beginning of the occupation.*

Repression of free speech in Iraq was extreme already under the regime of Saddam Hussein. The 2002 press freedom index of the watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranked Iraq a dismal 130th. The 2006 index pushes Iraq down to 154th position in a total of 168 listed countries, though still ahead of Pakistan, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, China and Iran. North Korea is at the bottom of the table.

The index ranks countries by how they treat their media, looking at the number of journalists who were murdered, threatened, had to flee or were jailed by the state.

The end of Saddam's dictatorship had for a while brought hope of greater press freedom. More than 200 new newspapers and a dozen television channels opened. The hope did not last even weeks.

"We were overwhelmed by the change that accompanied what we thought was the liberation of our country," journalist Said Ali who had earlier been arrested many times for criticising Saddam's regime told IPS. "I was arrested then for criticising low-ranking officials, and that was why I did not stay in jail long. The change of system in 2003 brought me hope of a better situation, but it proved false."

First, journalists began to face the danger of getting shot in the streets by nervous U.S. soldiers. Many journalists were killed in such firing. Later they began to face exile, arrest and bans on reporting after they began to expose abuses against Iraqi civilians. Journalists were targeted also for reporting the growing resistance to the occupation.

Order 65 of the "100 Orders" penned by former U.S. administrator in Iraq L. Paul Bremer established a communications and media commission. Under the order passed Mar. 20, 2004 the commission had complete control over licensing and regulating telecommunications, broadcasting, information services and all other media establishments.

On Jun. 28, 2004 when the United States supposedly handed power to a "sovereign" interim government, Bremer simply passed on the authority to U.S.-installed interim prime minister Ayad Allawi, who had longstanding ties with the CIA and the British intelligence service MI6. These orders have since been incorporated into the Iraqi constitution.

Within days of the "handover" of power to the interim Iraqi government, security forces raided and shut down the Baghdad office of al-Jazeera Arabic satellite channel.

The network was banned from reporting out of Iraq initially for a month, but the ban was then extended "indefinitely", and remains in place today. In November 2004 the Iraqi government announced that any al-Jazeera journalist found reporting in Iraq would be detained.

Others were picked on too. "My friend Sophie-Anne Lamouf, a French journalist who was covering Fallujah events from her hotel in Baghdad was exiled," an Iraqi journalist told IPS. "I could not believe going back to the dark ages was possible, but it is true."

Other journalists say resistance groups and criminal gangs are the biggest threat today. Another threat to media workers has been abduction either for ransom or to draw international attention to the kidnappers' cause.

"The worst thing that happens to a journalist in Iraq is the fighters' opinion that some of us are CIA spies," Iraqi journalist Maki al-Nazzal told IPS. "This would definitely lead to thorough investigations and sometimes has led to death."

During the siege of Fallujah in April 2004, 12 foreign journalists reported freely and left safely. But the situation changed soon afterwards. Under truce negotiations during that siege, U.S. forces asked leaders of the city to expel al-Jazeera journalists as part of a cease-fire agreement.
In September this year, the Iraqi government shut down the Baghdad bureau of al-Jazeera's competitor al-Arabiya. And on Jan. 1 this year, the Baghdad office of al-Sharqiya satellite channel which broadcasts from Dubai was ordered closed by the Iraqi government on grounds of "inciting sectarianism" following the Dec. 30 execution of Saddam Hussein. A news reader had appeared wearing black mourning clothes.

All non-Iraqi journalists now base themselves in well-protected hotels. For fear of resistance fighters, criminal gangs, the U.S. military or death squads, most never leave the hotels. When they do, they go "embedded" with the U.S. military.

According to the U.S. based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 92 journalists and 37 media support workers have been killed in Iraq since the occupation began in March 2003. Reporters Without Borders says at least 94 journalists and 45 media assistants have been killed since then.
Among the dead was IPS journalist Alaa Hassan who was shot and killed by armed men as he drove to work Jun. 28 this year.

Reporters Without Borders added that Iraq was one of the world's worst marketplaces for hostages, with at least 38 journalists kidnapped in three years.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that at least 14 journalists have been killed by the U.S. military. Many Arab media organisations say that number is far higher.

Death squads are now another growing threat to the media. The al-Shaabiya satellite channel bureau was attacked by death squads last year. The company chairman and many members of the staff were killed.

(Ali al-Fadhily is our Baghdad correspondent. Dahr Jamail is our specialist writer who has spent eight months reporting from inside Iraq and has been covering the Middle East for several years.)

RENEGADE EYE & MarxistFromLebanon


Anonymous said...

Bush continually says that the reason America is losing its taste for the war is because of the violence on the tele. Truth be told, we see very little of what is going on there. Journalism is almost non-existent. I wonder how many of the journalists that were killed were killed intentionally.

MarxistFromLebanon said...

I agree, the problem in the US and Europe, they see a different world than the one currently happening.

During the July War, I was surprised that people believed that Israel was targeting "Hezbollah" targets, while two missiles exploded next to my house, and worse, people seriously believing that Israel were the underdogs who were "defending" themselves by blasting Lebanon with millions of Cluster bombs and prohibited Phosphoric bombs.

furtherleft said...

I don't know and could be mistaken, but everytime I come across something by or about Reporters Without Borders, there seems to a an oder of CIA in the air. Maybe that's because it is difficult to find some place they aren't. Almost afraid to turn on Da Bear game today expecting them to have someone in the booth slanting things to Seattle.

Lew Scannon said...

Pocho is right, Reporters Without Borders is funded by the CIA. Everytime that lip licking liar goes on about how we're bringing "freedom" and "democracy" to Iraq, you know it's his idea of freedom and democracy where the corpocracy run rampant over the people's rights.

Frank Partisan said...

The war in Iraq, is beyond civil war. It is at the disintegration stage.

At the start of the occupation, newspaper freedom was trumpeted. Hitchens bragged about the Communist Party's newspapers were legal.

The Zionists must have read MFL's blog, and have a bomb with his name on it. During the fighting in Lebanon, when I wouldn't hear from him, I authentically worried.

Graeme said...

I was in Europe in July last year and noticed a huge difference from European coverage of the assault on Lebanon to US coverage. It makes you wonder if you ever know what the hell is going on. This is one reason why blogs are important

MarxistFromLebanon said...

Actually Renegeade is correct, I was active with the relief movement, we regarded ourselves as civilian resistance to an aggression.

As for the bombs, it was when they hit the lighthouse and the old tower in Ras Beirut, but the main shock was during the night, when the Naval Israelis bomb, our house would dance.

The field comrades saw the details live when they broke under bombardment to two isolated villages and delivered food aftert was cut off from the world (water, electricity, and food) for a week.

As for European coverage, it was also undermined graeme, they kept at minimum. Imagine our shock when 30 refugees in a bus in the open air were bombed (and raising the white flag) or when the Red Cross was hit killing 7 people and CNN didn't put anything while they focused on how an Israeli resident hiding in safe bomb shelter crying to TEARS because she lost her dog.

Damned Capitalism and investment Renegade was correct when I disappeared, but makes me sad that the best articles I wrote were not for my blog during the aggression


Anonymous said...

Great eye-opening post. I had no idea so many journalists had died on top of all the other deaths. I think the media in all countries is modified to reflect the view of the policy du jour and mostly reflects the attitudes and needs of those on power.

MarxistFromLebanon said...

At this rate, the number of martyrs in Iraq will hit one million in the next four or even less monthes

Frank Partisan said...

I haven't heard from Glenda in quite awhile. Thank you for visiting again.

beatroot said...

ifclzI don’t think that the declining situation for journalists In Iraq has been any secret – it’s well known. A free media is only free under a functioning state, rule of law, order. Iraq has none of those things.

It’s a now boring point, but still true: the manner in which social change is brought about will have profound impact on what happens next. It’s not rocket science…

troutsky said...

A case can be made that reporters are tools of a hegemonic system but I have to believe the ones who stay and work under such dangerous conditions believe in what they are doing and attempt to provide a fourth estate.We must not paint all media with the same broad brush or we are discounting those who are trying to do right. The right -wing believes the MSM is all a giant conspiricy, we should avoid the same simple analysis.First we have to define "mainstream".

Reidski said...

Not to sound inhumane or anything Ren, but, fuck journalists! The mark of a decent society is certainly not how journalists are treated, but maybe one in how journalists treat their fellow citizens.
By the way, I am not, of course, defending the killing, victimisation or jailing of journalists anywhere for the simple sake of it!

Rant over, keep it up Ren!