2006 was deadliest year for reporters covering Iraq war

Iraq - Annual Report from Reporters Without Borders

More than 60 media workers were killed and a score of others kidnapped in 2006, making it the deadliest year since fighting began in the country in March 2003. The Iraqi authorities imposed restrictions on the media that could endanger news diversity.

Local and foreign media and 65 journalists and their assistants were killed in 2006. Two were foreigners - Paul Douglas, of the US network CBS, and his soundman James Brolan - and the rest Iraqis.

Local journalists living among the population have no special protection and are frontline targets. More and more of them are taking refuge in Western embassies in Baghdad or in neighbouring countries and applying for political asylum. Their work with the foreign (especially English-speaking) media exposes them to Iraqi armed groups that see them as spies.

Targeted attacks increase

Most of the journalists were killed in deliberate attacks. They were not safe anywhere and during the year were murdered as they drove vehicles or killed in front of their homes and even at their workplaces. A car-bomb exploded on 7 May in the garage of a Baghdad building housing the offices of the Iraqi newspaper Al-Sabah, killing a printing worker and injuring about 20 journalists. A cameraman of the Iraqi TV station Al Charkiya was killed on 13 November in front of his home in Mosul (about 400 km from Baghdad) by armed men in a car.

Media workers were also victims of the religious rivalries dividing the country and were major targets of gunmen from both sides, who accused them of belonging either to a Shiite or Sunni media outlet. Eleven staff of a new TV station, Al Chaâbiya, were killed on 12 October when masked gunmen killed security guards at its studios and burst inside in search of journalists. They left after 20 minutes inside without being challenged.

Hostages as bargaining-chips

“Trading” in hostages increased in 2006, when 20 media workers were kidnapped (up from 14 in 2005) and seven of them executed. Freelance US journalist Jill Carroll was kidnapped on 7 January by gunmen in the Adel neighbourhood of Baghdad on her way to interview a Sunni politician. The body of her interpreter, Allan Enwiyah, who had been shot, was later found at the spot she was seized. She was released on 30 March after being held three months.

Meanwhile two Iraqi reporters - Rim Zeid and her colleague Marwan Khazaal, of Al-Sumariya TV - were seized by four armed men as they left a press conference on 1 February at the headquarters of the Islamic Party of Iraq in Baghdad’s Yarmuk neighbourhood. Their fate was still unknown at the end of 2006.

Iraqi journalists prevented from working

Iraqi journalists faced restrictions and bans imposed during the year by the authorities. The government of prime minister Nuri al-Maliki regularly threatened to shut down media outlets it blamed for “inciting violence.” TV stations were accused of “stirring up religious and ethnic passions” and banned from showing film of “blood and killings” that officials said “amplified the horror of the violence.”

The interior ministry shut down Sunni TV stations Al-Zawra and Salah-Eddin on 5 November for broadcasting film of demonstrators waving pictures of former President Saddam Hussein and protesting against his death sentence. They had still not been allowed back on the air by the end of the year.

The authorities briefly banned the media from parliament and the international press centre in the Green Zone of Baghdad in November. Live transmission of parliament was suspended after a stormy debate there about sectarian violence. The interior ministry set up a monitoring unit to ask journalists and media-outlets to print or broadcast corrections of “false news” and prosecute them if they refused. The measure also covers the pan-Arab satellite TV networks whose reporting of Iraq is closely watched. The Baghdad bureau of the Saudi TV station Al-Arabiya was shut down for a month for alleged “incitement to religious rivalry” and the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera has still not been allowed to open a Baghdad office.

At least 30 journalists were arrested by Iraqi security forces during 2006 and four of them were still being held without charge at the end of the year. Ahmad Ali Hamas al-Obaidi, of the radio station Dar Al Salam, which is linked to an Islamist party, was arrested at his Baghdad home on 5 August.

The US army arrested eight media workers during the same period and at year-end four of them were still being held without a stated reason. Local Associated Press reporter Bilal Hussein was arrested by US troops on 12 April on suspicion of having links with insurgents but was not formally accused of anything.

article originally published at http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=20761.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey