Ibrahim al-Sarragy, who heads the Iraqi Association for the Defence of Journalists’ Rights, argues that reporters are more exposed to risk than they need to be because they are not covered by any legislation.
“The Iraqi parliament needs to approve laws regulating journalists’ work and protecting them,” he said.
At the same time, he acknowledged that in terms of rights, journalists were much better off than in some of Iraq’s neighbours, although this freedom was still incomplete.
He said the most recent major incident his association dealt with was two months ago, when a local government head in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, broke into the Al-Nur radio station and dismissed all the staff without any legal justification.
The head of the parliamentary committee for culture and media,. Ali al-Shilah said the lack of a legislative framework was problematic, but it would be wrong to blame everything on government restrictions, since the real danger to journalists came from ongoing violence.
Shilah said he himself raised objections when the speaker of parliament tried to restrict reporters’ movements in the building by requiring them to be escorted at all times. He also challenged a decision to have footage of parliament sessions edited before it was broadcast on TV.
According to Darraji, one of the real limits to the freedom of any journalist is the ownership structure of the outlet he or she works for.
“Every TV channel, newspaper and radio station follows the line of whichever sponsor or political party owns it,” he said. “That’s why we don’t have real professional journalism.”
Laith Hammoudi is IWPR’s editor in Iraq.