Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Freedom of the Press, Iraq Version

A cornerstone of American democracy is freedom of expression, and consequently, the press. One might think such a "value" would be included in the democracy we're helping build in Iraq. One might be wrong.

One thing that had been better for Iraqis since Saddam's fall is freedom of the press. If you could avoid getting shot, ambushed or car-bombed, generally you could write or say whatever you wished. That seems to have changed. Mohammed al Dulaimy of Knight Ridder Newspapers has details:

A photographer for a Baghdad newspaper says Iraqi police beat and detained him for snapping pictures of long lines at gas stations. A reporter for another local paper received an invitation from Iraqi police to cover their graduation ceremony and ended up receiving death threats from the recruits. A local TV reporter says she's lost count of how many times Iraqi authorities have confiscated her cameras and smashed her tapes.

All these cases are under investigation by the Iraqi Association to Defend Journalists, a union that formed amid a chilling new trend of alleged arrests, beatings and intimidation of Iraqi reporters at the hands of Iraqi security forces. Reporters Without Borders, an international watchdog group for press freedom, tracked the arrests of five Iraqi journalists within a two-week period and issued a statement on April 26 asking authorities "to be more discerning and restrained and not carry out hasty and arbitrary arrests."

While Iraq's newly elected government says it will look into complaints of press intimidation, local reporters said they've seen little progress since reporting the incidents. Some have quit their jobs after receiving threats - not from insurgents, but from police. Most Iraqi reporters are reluctant to even identify themselves as press when stopped at police checkpoints. Others say they won't report on events that involve Iraqi security forces, which creates a big gap in their local news coverage.

"Big gap in news coverage" is certainly something America's mainstream media understands. But then, freedom of the press in Iraq has been a bit bothersome for quite some time, as noted here, and here.