Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
The historic transformation of Iraq's media continued in 2004, as Iraqis enjoyed unprecedented access to a wide diversity of media sources that emerged after Saddam Hussein's ouster from power. However, press freedom remained constrained by instability, escalating violence, and unanswered questions about the power and role of new institutions created to regulate the media.
In March, the Iraqi Governing Council, the principal Iraqi interim administration recognized by the United Nations, adopted the Law for the Administration of the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period (TAL). The TAL outlined a period of transferring political authority back to Iraq and provided protections for a free press. The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) continued to maintain political authority until late June. In late March, the CPA established the Iraq Communications and Media Commission (later called the National Communications and Media Commission, or NCMC), an independent nonprofit administrative institution with authority to license and regulate media, broadcasting, and telecommunications services. Also in late March, the CPA issued Order 66, which established the Iraqi Media Network as the public service broadcaster for Iraq.
On June 28, the interim Iraqi government assumed full governmental authority and began issuing new regulations and creating a separate body to regulate the media. In August, interim prime minister Iyad Allawi announced the creation of a new Higher Media Commission (HMC) with responsibility for regulating print and broadcast media and imposing sanctions against violators. For several months, there was a lack of clarity about the HMC's relationship to the NCMC. Interim Iraqi government officials later clarified that the HMC would serve as a senior policy advisory group to the NCMC. In October, the HMC announced that it was preparing a professional code for journalists, which included provisions such as respecting the religious faith of the majority, refraining from agitating divisions in Iraqi society, and not showing support for terrorist actions. The HMC said that it would draft regulations and set punishments for violations. Because much of the structure and operating procedures for the interim Iraqi government remained in flux by the end of the year, it was unclear what impact the HMC and the NCMC would have on Iraqi media outlets' operations.
The ongoing instability and violence remain the biggest threats to press freedom, with Iraqi insurgent groups targeting attacks against media. In 2004, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 15 Iraqi and foreign journalists, as well as 16 media workers (drivers, bodyguards, and translators, all but 1 of them Iraqis), were deliberately killed by extremist groups; 5 journalists died while covering live combat; and 3 journalists and 1 media worker were killed near checkpoints by Coalition forces because of mistaken identity. Many of the latter 9 deaths could likely have been avoided had more adequate safeguards (such as improved military communication regarding the presence of journalists in conflict areas) been in place. Twenty-two journalists were abducted during the year by insurgent groups or for ransom by professional kidnappers. In addition, journalists were subject to physical harassment at the hands of Coalition forces. Three Iraqi employees of Reuters news agency who were detained in January later claimed to have been subjected to sexual abuse by U.S. soldiers. On numerous occasions, the interim Iraqi government and Coalition forces restricted the movement of journalists and barred them from certain areas. In August, Iraqi police ordered all journalists who were not embedded with Coalition and Iraqi forces to leave the city of Najaf. Numerous reporters ignored the order, and police rounded up 60 foreign and Iraqi journalists and brought them to police headquarters, where they were later released. In November, interim prime minister Allawi declared a state of emergency in Ramadi and Fallujah, which provided the government with broad powers to impose curfews and restrict movement. This state of emergency was later extended to the rest of the country.
The CPA and the interim Iraqi government threatened to ban numerous media outlets and in some cases issued bans. In March, the CPA suspended Al-Hawza, the newspaper of Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, for allegedly falsely blaming the U.S. military for the deaths of Iraqi police recruits in a February attack. The closure of Al-Hawza was a contributing factor to clashes between Coalition forces and Al-Sadr's supporters throughout the spring and summer. The CPA and interim Iraqi government officials also threatened to ban two leading regional Arabic satellite television channels, Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, accusing the stations of inciting violence and providing biased news coverage of events in Iraq. In August, Iraq's interim government banned Al-Jazeera from operating in Iraq for 30 days; the ban was later made indefinite. However, Iraqi officials continue to appear on the channel, and Al-Jazeera maintains its operations in Iraq by using freelance journalists.
Iraq currently has more than 120 daily and weekly publications, and dozens of new private television and radio channels emerged throughout the country. Although most are affiliated with particular religious or political groups, the first privately owned nonpartisan television station, Al-Sharqiya, was launched in March 2004. Foreign satellite television, previously banned in all of Iraq under Saddam Hussein (except in the northern Kurdish regions since 1991), became increasingly available during 2004. While the independent press has grown tremendously, economic conditions have hindered the ability of independent publications to sustain themselves. Access to the Internet grew during the year, with many Internet cafes opening up in Iraqi cities.