Dear Mr. Bremer:
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is writing to express its concern about efforts underway by the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq to regulate local media.
U.S. officials have indicated that they have drafted new regulations prohibiting, among other things, “incitement” in Iraqi media. According to U.S. officials, the regulations aim to control inflammatory coverage in Iraqi media, including unsubstantiated news that officials believe will foment social unrest or hostility toward American troops. To CPJ’s knowledge, details of the new regulations have not been released, but The Los Angeles Times reported this week that violators would face warnings, fines, and possible detention.
While we appreciate your concerns about false, misleading, or even fabricated news disseminated by media, we fear that the use of highly interpretative prohibitions such as “incitement” could be used to restrict media discourse. Moreover, we deplore any regulation that provides for the arrest or detention of journalists in response to what they publish.
As new Iraqi media emerges, it is imperative that they be allowed to operate in an environment free of government restrictions. That includes ensuring that newspapers and broadcasters can function free of unreasonable licensing regimes, censorship, criminal prosecution, and arrest or detention.
CPJ respectfully calls on you to make public any regulations devised by the coalition authority for Iraqi media. We also call on you to undertake all possible measures to ensure that Iraqi media is able to operate with maximum freedom and without official interference.
Ann K. Cooper