New York, November 12, 2004—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.