Monday, February 4, 2013

At One Time It Was Violence, But Now It’s The Government That Is Restricting Press Freedom In Iraq

Originally, Iraq’s insurgency and civil war made it very difficult for reporters to do their job in the country, but now that situation has changed. Violence has subsided in recent years, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been fatalities amongst the press corps recently. More importantly, media outlets are now facing increasing pressure from political parties and the government. These difficulties were documented in Reporters Without Borders’ annual World Press Freedom Index, which was released in January 2013.

Iraq was ranked towards the bottom of the Reporters Without Borders report. Out of 179 countries included in the study, Iraq was 150. That was actually up two from the 2012 Index, but that year Iraq dropped 22 spots from the previous one. The main reason why Iraq did so poorly was continued violence against reporters, and government restrictions upon the press. In 2012, three journalists were killed, while seven died in 2011. In the past, those deaths could be attributed to armed groups, but the situation within Iraq has now changed. Journalists are just as likely to be killed by militants, as under mysterious circumstances that might include government forces. Radio personality Hadi al-Mahdi for example, was killed in September 2011 after criticizing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and participating in protests in Baghdad. Many accused the authorities of murdering him. Overall, Reporters Without Borders found that the press was routinely stopped from doing their job. Sometimes that came in the form of defamation lawsuits by politicians. During the 2012 demonstrations, reporters were prevented from covering events by being beaten, and having their equipment confiscated and broken by the security forces. Just recently in January 2013, a French photojournalist working for Le Monde Diplomatique was detained in Baghdad for not having a permit. In the capital, reporters are required to get permission to take photos of checkpoints and the security forces. According to the journalist’s sister however, he was arrested for taking pictures of a water treatment plant. This showed the increasing restrictions the authorities were placing upon the media, and limiting the flow of information. Before, it was insurgents or militias that were the main threat to freedom of the press. Now it is the government that is clamping down on journalists.

Even though Iraq is surrounded by monarchies and autocrats, it was still ranked towards the bottom of the Middle East and North Africa. It was 13 out of 19 countries in the region. At the top were Kuwait at 77, Lebanon at 101, and Qatar at 110. In comparison, at the bottom were Yemen at 169, Iran at 174, and Syria at 176. In 2012, many of these countries’ scores improved due to the Arab Spring. Since then many of them have gone back down, which led Reporters Without Borders to argue that the 2013 report was more representative of the true nature of press freedom in each country. Almost all of them were still in the bottom half of the world, pointing to the lack of elected governments throughout the region.

Reporters Without Borders 2013 Ranking Of The Middle East/North Africa
1. Kuwait 77
2. Lebanon 101
3. Qatar 110
4. Israel 112
5. United Arab Emirates 114
6. Algeria 125
7. Libya 131
8. Jordan 134
9. Morocco 136
10. Tunisia 138
11. Oman 141
12. Palestine 146
13. Iraq 150
14. Egypt 158
15. Saudi Arabia 163
16. Bahrain 165
17. Yemen 169
18. Iran 174
19. Syria 176

Iraq has struggled to become a democracy since the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein. For the first five years, violence was so bad it was difficult to achieve much. Since then security has improved, but political divisions and mistrust are now what characterize Iraq. Politicians have proven to not appreciate bad press. The result is lawsuits, threats, beatings, and other restrictions upon journalists. That’s the reason why Iraq continues to have such a poor score in Reporters Without Border’s Press Freedom Index. Until Iraq fully appreciates the free press it will not do much better.


Agence France Presse, “French-Australian journalist held in Baghdad jail,” 1/29/13

Amnesty International, “Days Of Rage, Protests and Repression In Iraq,” April 2011

Human Rights Watch, “World Report 2012,” 1/22/12
- “World Report 2013,” 1/31/13

Rao, Prashant, “Iraq press freedom in jeopardy,” Agence France Presse, 9/5/12

Reporters Without Borders, “2013 World Press Freedom Index: Dashed Hopes After Spring,” January 2013

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