By Hiwa Osman
As the free world debates the need for a strong, vibrant and free media – as well as ways to save journalism in an era of modern technology, social media and citizen journalism — the Iraqi Parliament has found a solution: Kill the industry.
Earlier this month, the so-called “Journalists’ Rights Law” was passed under the banner of protecting or affording rights to media workers.
The reality is that the law protects the government and the ruling elite from real journalism. It strengthens the Journalists’ Syndicate, which maintains a 1950s-era philosophy that a journalist should be with someone or against him, as I discovered in conversations I had with some of the members.
The legislation is rife with illegal and unconstitutional clauses, and places many restrictions on professional journalism.
Journalists play an absolutely crucial role in any democracy, and they are needed even more in a country like Iraq where corruption is eating away at the state.
Without getting into the details of the legislation’s legal and constitutional flaws — the Committee to Defend Press Freedom has prepared a good legal analysis of the issues – (a Arabic copy of the analysis is available on my website) the biggest issue is that the law will kill the potential for strong, responsible and professional journalism in Iraq.
The media provides a public service that is vital for our nation to develop. One of the key requirements in any country that wants to progress is for its people to have accurate information in order to create accountability and empower the public.
In this age of technological advancement, information has become everyone’s business. This is true not only in Iraq but everywhere around the world. The majority of the footage on our TV screens these days comes from non-journalists.
The legislation is configured in a way that makes journalists the only information providers and attempts to define a journalist in a very limited way.
Prominent intellectuals around the globe are pondering how to identify a journalist and the role they play in today’s world. It’s a challenging task, but according to our Parliament, the job apparently isn’t as difficult as these leading thinkers have made it out to be! The parliament described the journalist as “any who practices journalism”!
The legislation puts legal restraints on information that the journalist should be entitled to without defining the legal parameters of what is permitted and what is not.
The clauses that create the legal hurdles preventing journalists from obtaining information are the exact ones that corrupt individuals will use to stop information from being published.
The privileges parts of the legislation clearly discriminates between journalists and others in Iraq. It also kills the essence of the profession. One of the key elements for good journalism to evolve in any society is creativity and competition.
The legislation turns journalists into laborers and establishes a civil service culture for the industry under the syndicate’s patronage — just like in the old days.
It will also make it far more difficult for foreign journalists or for international journalism institutions to work or operate in Iraq as it sends a clear message that they are not welcome here. It is rather surprising to see the Kurdish representatives agreeing to this.
If the legislation is implemented as is, professional journalism will gradually fade away. It won’t be long before we’ll see a doctored image of the prime minister or the president standing in front of Obama at the White House — a stunt the pro-Mubarak media pulled shortly before he fell.
The Kurdistan Region should at least reject it.