Journalists, US occupation staff plan to regulate media in Iraq

As officials of the US-led occupation authority in Baghdad attempt to devise a code of conduct to regulate an excitable postwar media in Iraq, journalists and media policy experts from 15 different countries converged in Athens earlier this week to exchange ideas about a new regulatory framework for their Iraqi counterparts. A delegation representing some 80 media professionals who attended the Athens summit – organized by a non-profit international news-monitoring organization called Internews Network, in association with the Foreign Ministry and the US State State Department – are now due to present their proposal regarding the content and implementation of a media law framework to members of the occupation authority in Baghdad. As well as «comparing notes» with authority officials, members of the Athens group plan to meet with Iraqi journalists, many of whom are skeptical or outspokenly hostile to the proposed changes. «They plan to set up a committee and some jerks will be on it. I’ll fight any attempt at censorship,» editor of Iraqi daily Al-Manar, Mohamad Jubar, told The Associated Press in Baghdad yesterday. But members of the occupation authority and the Athens group maintain that a code of conduct for Iraqi media does not aim to censor but rather to suppress «hateful and destabilizing messages» that could incite violence and hinder efforts to build a democratic society. «(The Athens) conference addressed the critical questions being asked in Baghdad that needed to be answered immediately if media is to be open and responsible in the new Iraq,» Robert Reilly, deputy director for Indigenous Media in Iraq at the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, said after the event. But many journalists in Iraq, who endured strict censorship under Saddam Hussein, insist that criticism of authority is part of a democratic system. US officials retort that there will be no attempt to suppress criticism of the occupation. However, the idea of a code of conduct will not be easy to sell to reporters who have escaped a regime that controlled all media and punished those who failed to toe the official line. Following the fall of Saddam’s regime, new newspapers and existing media have been churning out opinions – many calling for resistance, some for violence. «Under America’s supervision: rape, murder, arson, looting,» a recent headline of the Al-Ahrar newspaper remarked. The necessity of checking a suddenly unrestrained media was stressed by the chairman of the Internews Network, Markos Kounalakis. «The Iraqi people… face new dangers posed by the lack of any media law or authority,» he said. «(The Athens conference) was designed to help create a framework for new media architecture in Iraq, as part of the process of building democracy.» A free but responsible media infrastructure in Iraq would «enable (the Iraqi people)… to make informed decisions about the future of their families, their communities, and their country,» according to Special Adviser to Foreign Minister George Papandreou Ambassador Alexander Rondos, who opened the Athens event.

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