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)
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The two greatest challenges to press freedom in Iraq in 2008 remained the country’s ongoing security threats and government restrictions on investigating corruption and abuses of power. Both freedom of opinion and freedom of the press are guaranteed in Article 36 of the 2005 constitution, provided these rights are exercised “in a way that does not violate public order or morality.” The constitution also outlines a legal framework for the creation of an independent National Communications and Media Commission to regulate broadcast media. However, Iraqi laws restrict the press and allow for fines and up to seven years in prison for anyone who insults the parliament, the government, or public authorities. The media are also prohibited from supporting the Ba’ath Party, inciting violence or civil disorder, or calling for a change in Iraq’s borders through violent means. In addition, a number of restrictive laws dating from Saddam Hussein’s rule remain on the books, and some emergency orders from the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) period are still in effect. The press may be prosecuted under the 1969 penal code, which criminalizes libel, defamation, the disclosure of state secrets, and the spreading of “false news.” Several amendments to laws governing the press have been circulated, and the constitution itself is still being revised, which may or may not improve legal protections for the press.
On September 22, Iraqi Kurdistan’s regional parliament passed a media law giving journalists unprecedented freedoms. An earlier version of the law, passed in December 2007, met with widespread opposition from Kurdish journalists, who pressured Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), to send it back to the parliament. The new law eliminates prison terms for defamation cases, leaving only fines as a possible punishment. The law was tested several times before year’s end. On November 4, a criminal court in Sulaymaniya found Shwan Dawdi, editor in chief of the Kirkuk-based Hawal newspaper, guilty of three defamation charges filed by the former director of the Sulaymaniya courthouse. Dawdi was sentenced to one month in prison and fined 300,000 Iraqi dinars (US$250). On November 13, the Court of Appeals overturned the verdict, stating that Dawdi should be tried under Kurdistan’s new press law. A court in Arbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, convicted Hawlati reporter Adel Hussein on November 24 and fined him 125,000 dinars for an April 2007 article about homosexuality. The conviction was not consistent with the regional press law, which does not consider violations of “public custom” to be a criminal offense. Adel was pardoned on December 7 by KRG President Barzani.
The number of arrests and detentions of journalists by Iraqi security forces and U.S. forces declined in 2008. However there were still many cases of journalists being arrested, and the Iraqi authorities employed other forms of legal harassment of the media. The government also maintained its policy of curbing broadcasters using CPA Order 14, which prohibits the media from “inciting violence.” Reuters photojournalist Ibrahim Jassam Mohammed was arrested on September 1 by U.S. and Iraqi forces after being labeled a security threat. On November 30, the Iraqi Central Criminal Court determined that there was no evidence against Jassam and ordered him released from U.S. military custody. However, U.S. authorities ignored the ruling, stating that they were not obligated to follow Iraqi court decisions, and Jassam remained in detention at year’s end. On April 9, the U.S. military released Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein after an Iraqi judge ordered his release and granted him amnesty regarding accusations of aiding the insurgency. Hussein had been held for over two years. On June 4, U.S. forces detained Ahmed Nouri Raziak, a cameraman for Associated Press Television News, at his home in Tikrit. He was released without charge on August 23. On December 14, the security services of the Iraqi prime minister arrested Muntazer al-Zaidi, an Iraqi television journalist who threw his shoes at U.S. president George W. Bush during a Baghdad press conference. At the close of 2008, al-Zaidi remained in jail awaiting charges.
Iraq continued to be the most dangerous place in the world for the press in 2008, with at least 11 journalists killed during the year. However, this figure was the lowest annual toll since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, and two-thirds lower than the annual figures for 2007 or 2006, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). All of the journalists killed in 2008 were Iraqis working for domestic news outlets. Although some were caught in crossfire, most were victims of deliberate attacks by insurgent groups and militias. Among the victims was Shihab al-Tamimi, the president of the Iraqi Union of Journalists (IUJ). He was injured in an attack following a meeting of the union leadership in Baghdad and died from his injuries on February 27. The new IUJ president, Moaid al-Lami, survived another Baghdad bomb attack seven months later. On May 4, gunmen killed freelance journalist Sirwa Abdel Wahab during an attempted kidnapping as she left her home in Mosul. Iraq is ranked first worldwide on CPJ’s Impunity Index, which calculates the number of unsolved murders of journalists as a percentage of the population. In an initiative to protect reporters, the Iraqi Interior Ministry created a hotline for journalists in danger. The ministry also set up a special police unit to investigate murders of journalists. Despite these improvements, killers often go unpunished, as Iraqi authorities lack sufficient resources to enforce the law. Only six journalists were abducted in 2008, down from 25 in 2007. According to CPJ, the most notable kidnapping was that of Richard Butler, a producer for the news program "60 Minutes" on the U.S. television network CBS. He was abducted in Basra in February, and in April Iraqi forces raided the house where he was being held and successfully freed him. Many kidnappings targeted local journalists working for foreign media outlets. Most journalists practice a high level of self-censorship in response to the extralegal intimidation and violence, as well as the threat and implementation of restrictive press laws.
The diversity of the media in Iraq increased dramatically after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Iraq now has more than 100 daily and weekly publications and dozens of private television and radio channels. Nevertheless, the financial viability of these outlets is severely threatened by the security situation, and many publications have very small circulations. Nearly all media outlets are privately owned and operated, though many are financially dependent on or affiliated with ethnic, sectarian, or partisan groups. This fact, combined with poor training for journalists, has resulted in a media environment that reflects a plurality of viewpoints but lacks balanced journalism. Traditional, independent journalism is spearheaded by successful publications such as Assabah Aljadeed and Hawlati and news agencies such as Aswat al-Iraq. Media infrastructure has improved with information and communication technologies and new printing presses in Baghdad and Basra. The government-controlled Iraqi Media Network includes Al-Iraqiya television, the newspaper Al-Sabah, and radio stations throughout the country. Among the largest domestic television stations is Al-Sharqiya, which broadcasts from Dubai and features news, soap operas, and satire. The popularity of foreign satellite television, which had been banned under Saddam Hussein except in the northern Kurdish region, has increased immensely since the 2003 invasion. Around one-third of all Iraqi families now own satellite dishes.Internet use was severely limited during the Saddam Hussein era, but many internet cafes have opened since 2003. There are no direct government restrictions on internet access, but owing to the security situation, power failures, and lack of infrastructure, the number of private internet users remains small even by regional standards. Roughly 1 percent of Iraqis accessed the internet in 2008.