The Guardian reported this morning that police in Baghdad “fired shots into the air to force a group of Iraqi journalists to leave” the scene of a car bombing that killed seven people.
This follows on the heels of a declaration by the Iraqi government that reporters will no longer be allowed access to sites of bombings and other violent acts. As IraqSlogger quoted Iraqi Interior Ministry Operations Director Brigadier General Abdul Karim Khalaf on Sunday, the reasons for the ban are:
To protect journalists from being victims in follow on attacks (insurgents often target first responders).
— “We do not want evidence disturbed before detectives arrive.”
— “The respect of human rights by not photographing dead bodies who fall by bombings and other incidents.”
— “The Ministry does not want to give terrorists information that they achieved their goals.”
There are few actions more undemocratic, and harmful to the concept of a democracy, than banning journalists from being able to do their job in the public sphere, not to mention that chasing journos away with gunfire, while undoubtedly effective, is hardly the best way to handle the situation.
Reporters Without Borders isn’t having any of it, saying in a statement that “It is vital that journalists can report on the security situation throughout the country without it being seen as incitement to violence. When the streets become impassable and the authorities provide no information about the attacks in real time, the role of the reporter becomes essential. Coverage of these attacks allows people to evaluate the security risk and to avoid dangerous areas.”
It’s also important to note that this isn’t the first time the Iraqi government has gone toe-to-toe with the Iraqi media. Back in December, the Interior Ministry banned journalists from covering the Iraqi parliament for two weeks before allowing them back in, and last November the ministry created a media surveillance unit set up in order to allow the government to bring legal action against the press. The Interior Ministry said at the time that it would “take all necessary measures against media that broadcast mendacious reports” and would “not hesitate to prosecute in order to prevent them from diverting Iraqis from the fight against terrorism.”
All this comes at a time when Iraq remains just as deadly for journalists as ever. As IraqSlogger, which does a great job in keeping up with all the news from Iraq that flies just under the radar, reported earlier this month, the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory in Iraq (JFOI) “registered 123 violations against Iraqi journalists and media workers in one year during the period between May 3, 2006, and May 3, 2007. In its annual report published on Thursday, JFOI said the total number of violations had doubled over the last year.”
While this latest restriction on journalists might not rise to the level of life and death, it shouldn’t be taken lightly, either. We’ve seen countless images of wrecked cars and twisted bodies strewn across the streets of Iraq for four years now, but it’s imperative that these atrocities continue to be recorded for history. To record these images and stories — and to keep recording them — is what journalists do, and even in wartime, a democratically-elected government should know that.