An Iraqi government plan to impose restrictive rules on news media represents an alarming return to authoritarianism, the Committee to Protect Journalists has warned.
CPJ denounced the rules - which call for news organisations to disclose staff lists and identify sources if complaints are made about stories - and called on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his government to abandon their repressive plan.
CPJ’s review of the plan found rules that fall well short of international standards for freedom of expression and that appear to contravene the Iraqi constitution, which provides for a free press. The new rules would effectively impose government licensing of journalists and media outlets, a tool that authoritarian governments worldwide have long used to censor the news.
“The regulations suggest either a lack of understanding of the news media’s role in a democratic society, or a deliberate attempt to suppress information and stifle opposing views,” said CPJ executive director Joel Simon. “Either way, the rules should be rescinded immediately so that the media can do its job free of government intimidation.”
BBC World News editor Jon Williams writing on the BBC's The Editors' Blog says: "the international media, including the BBC, are concerned that new plans outlined by the Iraqi authorities owe more to a desire to control and censor the news media rather than to enshrine Iraq's constitutional right to free speech and a free press.
"The Iraqi authorities want the BBC and other news organisations to disclose full lists of staff, an act we believe might endanger those who work for us. The Iraqi authorities are demanding journalists reveal their sources in response to complaints, in violation of the journalist's age-old responsibility to protect those who come to us with stories. And they want to prevent the international media from reporting stories that might incite violence or sectarianism, but have failed to clarify what constitutes "incitement" or "sectarianism".
"Iraq remains a difficult place in which to operate. The political environment is tense, with a general election in Iraq just a month away, where even reporting death-tolls is viewed as controversial, and could lay the international media open to censorship."
"Journalists have a responsibility to be accurate and fair - we don't want, and don't ask, for special treatment. However, we do want the ability to operate freely, without fear or favour. Our audiences deserve nothing less."
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