War Correspondents form Committee to fight for Rights

By Mustafa Saadoun for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News

A group of war correspondents announced May 20 the formation of an association to defend the rights of war correspondents and journalists.

Association leader Mustafa Latif told NRT TV on May 20, “We will announce the formation of the association officially June 1 during a conference that will be held in Baghdad.”

Iraqi journalists who covered the battles against the Islamic State (IS) in recent years created their own association independent of the two syndicates of journalists in Iraq — the Iraq Journalists Syndicate and the National Union of Iraqi Journalists — and of the institutions that defend journalistic freedom.

War correspondents who were sent to the battlefronts to cover battles against IS over the past four years have formed the National Military Information Association, which will defend the rights of wounded and slain journalists who were not treated fairly by their media corporations during war coverage.

Mujahed Abu al-Hill, the head of the Iraqi Media Network, met with the constituent committee of the association May 2 and promised to help it become a platform documenting the achievements of correspondents who work for various Iraqi national media outlets and who covered Iraqi forces' battles against terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and IS. The Iraqi Media Network is an independent public organization in charge of a number of TV, radio and other media operations, including Al-Iraqiya TV.

The war correspondents association began forming a seven-member constituent committee in April and elected correspondent Ali Mtayar as president and his colleagues Latif and Ali Rashid as deputies. The group has 120 war correspondents as members.

Mtayar told Al-Monitor that governmental red tape is delaying necessary paperwork in the cases of slain and wounded journalists. "We want to put more pressure to help our colleagues who have sacrificed their lives to relay the truth to get their rights,” Mtayar said.

Latif said, “Our priority is to guarantee the rights of those killed and wounded from the media corporations where they worked.”

The association was established a year after the battles in the country ended and most war correspondents returned to peaceful cities to practice their profession. However, it seems that when some wounded journalists did not receive proper treatment and when some slain journalists' families did not receive compensation, their colleagues decided to form a body to defend the rights of those affected.

The association will be part of civil society and will work in partnership with the Iraqi Media Network and the Iraq Journalists Syndicate. It will be registered with the nongovernmental association department affiliated with the general secretariat of the Iraqi Cabinet.

Before 2013 and the rise of extremist groups in western Iraq, the term “war correspondent” was not common. But it spread widely after IS took over Mosul in June 2014 and media teams began accompanying governmental forces to battlefronts.

Iraq is among the most dangerous journalistic environments in the world, and in recent years many local and foreign journalists have been killed in the country.

Iraq lost 50 local journalists over four years at battlefronts, and more than 100 journalists were wounded. Some of them still are suffering from critical injuries. Investigative reports have shown that some war correspondents were sent to battlefronts under unprofessional conditions in terms of their safety and without social security coverage in what is being called a violation of their rights.

Members of the association said its formation was long overdue. They blamed the delay on the intervention of governmental groups.

Constituent committee Haidar Shakour told Al-Monitor, “The disbanded Military Information Cell that was affiliated with the premiership pressured war correspondents and discriminated against them to control the news and military correspondence. This is one of the reasons the formation of the association was delayed, but we have managed to be independent and form our own entity.”

The association put in place an annual work plan related to several issues, including training Iraqi journalists on covering conflict zones and on professional safety. Projects related to how the media cover the military and journalists' role in helping societies receive news during war are to be carried out.

The association is compiling cases of journalists who were killed and wounded in battles but where proper compensation was not provided. The cases will be submitted to the Iraqi government in cooperation with the Iraq Journalists’ Syndicate. A program in coordination with the government is also planned in order for those suffering from major injuries to be treated outside Iraq.

The war correspondents association is not directly funded by any governmental or nongovernmental party. But the Iraqi Media Network made promises to offer it some logistical aid to provide headquarters and office stationery for its members.

Amal Sakr, vice president of the National Union of Iraqi Journalists, told Al-Monitor, “I believe this association is not necessary. It is an addition to the list of other associations that offered journalists nothing.”

Sakr said legislation in parliament guaranteeing rights of journalists is more important than an abundance of associations raising the banner of defending journalists.

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