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Another Casualty: Coverage of the Iraq War

Posted by uscsjp on March 23, 2007

Dahr Jamail | March 23, 2007 (Foreign Policy in Focus)

Iraq is the most dangerous place in the world for journalists. Along with names and dates, the Brussels Tribunal has listed the circumstances under which Iraqi media personnel have been killed since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. This extremely credible report cites 195 as dead. If non-Iraqi media representatives are included, the figure goes beyond 200. Both figures are well in excess of the media fatalities suffered in Vietnam or during World War II.

The primary reason why reporting from Iraq is dangerous for all journalists is the horrific security situation. Iraqi journalists reporting from the streets are in perpetual danger. If any of the countless militias does not want a certain story made public, it will make sure that the journalist has filed his or her last story. Not to mention the scores of reporter deaths which have been the combined handiwork of the Iraqi government, occupation forces and/or criminal gangs…

The United States continues to claim that its military operations in Iraq bring freedom and democracy. But such freedom apparently doesn’t extend to Iraqi journalists. Several journalists critical of the United States or the U.S.-backed Iraqi government have been killed. For instance, on March 4, 2007 gunmen killed prominent journalist Mohan al Zaher in his home. That Sunday, his column concluded with the lament, “…if this is the democracy that we (Iraqis) dreamt of.” His earlier articles questioned U.S. policies in Iraq.

The U.S. military has also conducted direct raids on media establishments and representatives. During the invasion, on April 8, 2003, a U.S. warplane bombed the al-Jazeera bureau in Baghdad, killing 35-year-old journalist Tareq Ayoub. Britain’s Daily Mirror later cited the “top secret” minutes of a meeting during November 2004 where George W. Bush attempted to get British Prime Minister Tony Blair to consent to the bombing of the al-Jazeera headquarters in Doha, Qatar.

More recently, on February 23, 2007, U.S. soldiers raided and ransacked the offices of the Iraq Syndicate of Journalists (ISJ) in central Baghdad. The soldiers arrested ten armed guards and seized ten computers and 15 small electricity generators meant to be donated to families of killed journalists. Youssif al-Tamimi of the ISJ in Baghdad told one of my close colleagues, “The Americans have delivered so many messages to us, but we simply ignored all of them. They killed our colleagues, shut down our newspapers, arrested hundreds of us and now they are shooting at our hearts by raiding our headquarters. This is the freedom of speech we received.” Many Iraqis believe that the U.S. soldiers were conveying from their leadership to Iraqi journalists the message of zero tolerance for criticism of the U.S.-led occupation.

The U.S.-backed Iraqi government also directly controls the media. The Coalition Provisional Authority under the U.S. administrator, L. Paul Bremer, created the Media and Communications Commission as an instrument of control. This commission, incorporated into the Iraqi constitution, regulates licensing, telecommunications, broadcasting, information services, and all other media establishments. Under the authority of this commission, in July 2004, security forces of the interim Iraqi government raided and shut down the Baghdad office of the Arabic satellite channel al-Jazeera. Initially the network faced a month-long ban on reporting out of Iraq. In November 2004 the Iraqi government announced that any al-Jazeera journalist found reporting in Iraq would be detained. Subsequently the ban was extended indefinitely and continues today.

Another instance of blatant media repression by the Iraqi state took place on November 11, 2004. During the siege of Fallujah when Iraqi journalists along with this writer were reporting the killing of civilians and the use of prohibited weapons like white phosphorous by the U.S. military, Iraq’s Media High Commission issued a warning on the official letter head of the prime minister. The letter instructed reporters to, “Stick to the government line on the U.S. led offensive in Fallujah or face legal action” and also to “set aside space in your news coverage to make the position of the Iraqi government, which expresses the aspirations of most Iraqis, clear.” …

The Pentagon’s “embedded” program where mainstream media journalists volunteer to act as propagandists requires a journalist to sign a contract giving the military control over her or his output which amounts to total censorship. Embedding continues to this day, as does corporate ownership of the media. Together they ensure coverage of the occupation that is biased in favor of the state as the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) has exposed. (continued)

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