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Iraq Elections "Pipe Dream of Deluded Politicians"

by CASCFEN
FJ, Brussels, 18.11.2004 -- The idea of free and fair elections in Iraq any time soon is a "pipe-dream" unless all restrictions on journalists are lifted immediately said the International Federation of Journalists today. The Federation is demanding urgent news about the US detention of an Arab television correspondent and has condemned the interim Iraqi government for trying to censor the media in a new directive from Baghdad.
"Journalists already struggle to report freely in dangerous conditions," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "But the atmosphere is made infinitely worse when occupation armies and the authorities try to muscle the media through diktat and arbitrary detention."

The IFJ called for the release of Abdel Kader Al-Saadi, a correspondent for Al-Arabiya television, who was reportedly arrested in Falluja a week ago. The journalist stayed in the city to cover the fighting and gave himself up to American forces. Al-Arabiya say he was picked up by US forces. The company has already suffered heavy losses in Iraq. Eight employees have died since March 2003, three killed by the American army in an incident which the IFJ says is still to be fully explained.

The IFJ says Al-Saadi was wearing clear "press" markings at the time of his arrest and should be released immediately. "It is intolerable that he should still be in custody. We cannot ignore the possibility that he is being intimidated for just trying to do his job," said White.

Meanwhile, the Federation has also sharply condemned the interim Iraqi authority over a new directive telling news media to reflect the government's positions in their reports. The order comes in a statement released by the government regulatory Media High Commission which instructed journalists not to attach "patriotic descriptions to groups of killers and criminals," and asked the media to "set aside space in news coverage to make the position of the Iraqi government, which expresses the aspirations of most Iraqis, clear." If media do not comply the statement threatens: "We will be forced to take all the legal measures to guarantee higher national interests."

Although the commission cites the 60-day state of emergency," said White, "this is an ominous development and suggests newspapers and television are going to face strong-arm tactics from the authorities to tow their line."

The IFJ says that the Iraqi authorities, who closed the Baghdad office of the satellite television channel Al-Jazeera and barred the station from newsgathering in Iraq after deeming its coverage to be against the Iraqi people and government, continue to be intolerant of independent journalism.

"In such circumstances the idea that free and fair elections can be held in the coming weeks is the pipe-dream of deluded politicians" said White.

http://www.cascfen.org/news.php?nid=589&cid=22
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The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply disturbed by a new directive from Iraqi authorities that warns news organizations to reflect the government's positions in their reporting or face unspecified action.

The warning came in a statement released Thursday but dated November 9 by the government regulatory Media High Commission. The commission cited the 60-day state of emergency declared when U.S.-led forces began their offensive in Fallujah this week, The Associated Press and Reuters reported. The state of emergency covers all of Iraq except the Kurdish north, giving the prime minister additional powers to quash the insurgency before elections in January.

Directing the news media to differentiate between "innocent citizens of Fallujah" and insurgents, the commission instructed journalists not to attach "patriotic descriptions to groups of killers and criminals," according to the statement, obtained by CPJ. The statement also asked the media to "set aside space in your news coverage to make the position of the Iraqi government, which expresses the aspirations of most Iraqis, clear."

"You must be precise and objective in handling news and information," the statement said. "We hope you comply . . . otherwise we regret we will be forced to take all the legal measures to guarantee higher national interests," it added.

"We are very troubled by this directive, which is an attempt to control news coverage through government coercion," said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. "It damages the government's credibility in establishing a free and democratic society."

In August, Iraqi authorities closed the Baghdad office of the satellite television channel Al-Jazeera and barred the Qatar-based station from newsgathering in Iraq after deeming its coverage to be against the Iraqi people and government. The government extended the ban indefinitely a month later.

http://www.cascfen.org/news.php?nid=580&cid=22
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