Freedom of the Press

Iraq

Iraq

Freedom of the Press 2007

2007 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

70

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

32

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

16

Restrictions on the press took fresh forms in 2006 as the new Iraqi government for the first time took action against reporters. The 2005 constitution outlines a legal framework concerning the activities of the press, including provisions guaranteeing freedom of the press and of expression “in a way that does not violate public order or morality,” according to Article 38. In addition, Articles 101 and 102 outline a financially and administratively independent National Communications and Media Commission. However, like many other articles in the constitution, they do not specify the commission’s mandate or define the implementation of regulations and legislation. Legal analysts have noted that some archaic laws dating from Saddam Hussein’s rule remain on the books, including restrictive insult, antidefamation, and state secrecy legislation.

In 2006, authorities imposed restrictions on the media that could endanger news diversity. Iraqi security forces detained at least 30 journalists over the course of the year, with 4 still held without charge at year’s end. Moreover, the U.S. military arrested 8 media workers; 4 were still in custody at the end of the year. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government threatened to close media outlets for “inciting violence,” and television stations were banned from showing violent footage of events within Iraq. In November, the government shut down two television stations, Al-Zawra and Salah al-Din, for showing footage of Iraqis protesting Saddam Hussein’s death sentence. Neither had been allowed back on the air at year’s end. The Ministry of the Interior established a monitoring unit tasked with requesting that journalists broadcast corrections of “false news.” Local and regional officials have been particularly aggressive in bringing charges against critical journalists. In January, the Kurdish regional government upheld a 30-year prison sentence for Kamal Sayid Qadir, who was charged with defaming public institutions. Two editors and a journalist for the Kurdish weekly Hawlati were also charged with defamation in May following an article critical of Kurdish political parties. The government placed restrictions on foreign media as well; in October, authorities briefly closed the Baghdad bureau of satellite news channel Al-Arabiya for inciting “sectarianism” and “violence,” and Al-Jazeera’s Baghdad bureau remained shuttered after it was forced to close in 2004. In 2005, it was revealed that the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) had hired a public relations firm to place stories with media outlets in Iraq that were written by U.S. military officers and depicted conditions in the country in a favorable light. In December 2006, during an internal investigation, the DOD concluded that the program had been legal under the rules of psychological warfare. However, the United States faced criticism from international watchdog groups for trying to manipulate press coverage and spread propaganda in the Iraqi media.

Ongoing instability and violence remain the biggest threats to press freedom, with Iraqi insurgent groups conducting targeted kidnappings and attacks on the media. According to the International Press Institute, 46 journalists and media workers were confirmed killed in 2006; 44 of them were Iraqi nationals, and many were killed in deliberate attacks. Reporters Sans Frontieres reported that armed groups kidnapped 20 media workers and executed 7. Gunmen in the Adil neighborhood of Baghdad kidnapped U.S. journalist Jill Carroll on January 7 and released her three months later. The fate of two Iraqi reporters, Reem Zaid and her colleague Marwan Khazal of Al-Somariyah TV, was still unknown at the end of 2006. Armed groups have targeted local journalists who work with foreign media and have accused them of being spies. Self-censorship increased as a result of intimidation from violent groups, including sectarian militias. Much of the violence against journalists in 2006 occurred during the last months of the year, as hostilities among insurgent groups increased significantly. In the deadliest incident of 2006, gunmen raided the offices of the radio station Al-Shaabiya in October, killing six journalists and four guards. The station, owned by the National and Justice Party, was created in July but had yet to broadcast.

Iraq has more than 100 daily and weekly publications, and dozens of new private television and radio channels have emerged throughout the country. The financial viability of these outlets is severely threatened by the security situation. Nearly all media outlets are privately owned and operated, but most of them are affiliated with ethnic, sectarian, or partisan groups. Access to foreign satellite television, previously banned in all of Iraq under Saddam Hussein (except in the northern Kurdish regions since 1991), grew in 2006. Satellite stations are watched by around 70 percent of Iraqi viewers; the Pan-Arab news stations Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera are especially popular. Iran’s Alalam TV, which broadcasts in Arabic, can be received in Baghdad without a satellite dish. Internet usage also increased during the year to 36,000 users (less than 1 percent of the population), with many internet cafés opening up in Iraqi cities and no direct government restriction on access to, or operation of, the internet.