United States International

Journalists pay price to build civil society

Journalists pay price to build civil society
by: Peter Murdoch

A plaque hangs behind the desk in the Baghdad office of Mussa Faraj, commissioner of the Iraqi Commission for Public Integrity.

On it, inscribed in foot-high Arabic, is a quote from the Qur'an which my colleague Monir Zaarour, Middle East Co-ordinator for the International Federation of Journalists, translates as: "Stand straight, as God ordered you."

The people of Iraq are trying to stand straight. It is difficult. Their country has been bent by a ruthless dictator, invading armies, sectarian violence and untold corruption.

"We must rebuild public confidence in our state institutions," says Faraj. "And for that we need to create a more balanced and impartial media."

Since 2003, one journalist or news staffer has been killed every five days, 250 media workers, 95 per cent of them Iraqis, according to IFJ statistics.

Despite the alarming figure, Aidan White, president of the IFJ, who led our three-person delegation to Baghdad, believes there is an opportunity for developing an independent, professional media.

"All indications are that sectarian battles are running out of steam, combatants are becoming exhausted. The U.S. strategy of softening up local factions in order to provide a political context for defining democracy and peace may be working."

Over the course of three days in early January, we met with the vice-president of Iraq, three cabinet ministers, the speaker and deputy speaker of Parliament, government officials and more than a dozen Iraqi journalists.

If there was consensus in our discussions, it was this: Iraq's fledgling democracy needs a safe, professional and independent media.

Much of Iraq's media today is owned and controlled by wealthy, highly politicized parties often with sectarian interests. There is no viable commercial market for the support of media through advertising. Journalists are often used – at threat of their lives – as propagandists.

Read the entire article here: http://www.thestar.com/article/294310

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