December 14, 2008

A note on media freedom, democracy and the threats faced.

The following is an edited note from a friend, journalist and journalism professor currently on military duty in Iraq after being called up from Army reserve retirement.

Probably the most gratifying experience I’ve had is one I can’t discuss in detail, because it involves my work. Let’s just say that in detailing how we will help Iraq build its democracy there was no mention in the next Joint Campaign Plan (JCP) of freedom of the press, and now there is. I’m under no illusions that a Western-style democracy will take root here just because we will it, but I told them that without a free and independent press, there will be no democracy, period. Russia and Venezuela have lost their young democracies because those governments have muzzled the press.

They incorporated it into an annex of the JCP.

And the threat to journalists remains strong from more than explosive devices in the road.

There have been two troubling reports in the news here about the press in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan. One journalist was jailed in October for criticizing a courthouse, another recently for writing an article about homosexuality, not condoning it, just a clinical discussion of it. He was jailed under a public decency law!

This was about the same time I was arguing for press freedom. I e-mailed the news item about the arrest to [a] contact in the working on the JCP and asked tartly, “Is this what we’re fighting for?” The president of Kurdistan did pardon the journalist the other day, after he spent about a week behind bars.

A lot of Iraqi journalists have been murdered, a familiar story. Al-Qaida killed four members of a camera crew for the leading independent station, Al-Sharqiya (The Easterner), who were in Mosul working on the extremely popular program modeled after our “Extreme Makeover.” When they showed up at the house that was to be made over, the bad guys abducted them, took them into the desert and shot them execution-style. Why? Because the program was too Western! Those bastards!

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