Monday, September 05, 2011

'Real First Step' for Journalism in Iraq?

On August 9th 2011, the Iraqi Parliament approved legislation with the intention of 'strengthening' the rights of its journalists. The Protection Laws enable Judicial Decision alone to sanction the confiscation of newspapers, the investigation of journalists for activity deemed criminal, and also provides financial assurance for journalists injured on the job. This legislation comes at a time when Iraq has, for the fourth year running, been branded as the country with the worst record of justice for murdered reporters, according to a New York- based Press watchdog. Iraq has more than three times the number of media- related unsolved murders than Somalia, which has the next most concerning record, and yet still shows no signs of improvement.

In spite of this, Al- Lami, of the Iraqi Journalists' Syndicate, has responded to August's Journalism Protection Laws as a 'real first step'. Indeed, with the syndicate being 15,000 strong, the Iraqi government surely would have hoped that last month's legislation would go some way to quelling the weekly non- violent protests that have characterised Fridays at Tahrir Square, since February. However, many have voiced concern over the wording of the legislation, and journalists such as Hiwa Osman assert that the Protection Laws have been passed under the guise of 'killing the industry'. Primary concerns have been expressed over the vague language employed, along with the narrow definition of journalists ('full- time, registered media workers'), and the way in which the laws ensure that many journalists are restricted to covering government- friendly issues. In this sense, the Journalist Protection legislation actually seeks to foster a much larger dependence on the Iraqi Journalist Syndicate; paving the way for much greater central control and exacerbating the threat to the free media in Iraq. Osman predicts that the implementation of the law will hasten the demise of professional journalism in Iraq; the restrictions in accessing and broadcasting information that journalists will be subject to are a severe blow to democracy. The law essentially opens the door for state- sponsored persecution of journalists who do not comply with the government.

It seems inherently clear that the law is an attempt to reign in Iraqi journalists and, at the same time, act as a deterrent to international journalists. Not only have foreign reporters long been the targets of assassinations, random violence and roadside bombs in Iraq, but they now have to be more aware than ever of the wrath of Iraqi 'judicial decision'.

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