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After being granted autonomy by Iraq in 2003, there was great hope for the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan. However, following an interview with Deutsche Welle, journalist Kamal Chomani has announced that there is no independent media within the region. This comes after protests in Basra, Iraq held by the National Union of Iraqi Journalists demanding the right to work free of intimidation and arrest, creating the hashtag on twitter “Journalism Cannot Be Silenced”.
Since 2003, violence against journalists has been widespread across the regions of Iraq and Kurdistan. This violence is a threat to democracy which both countries uphold a form of, often via elections. Previously commentators have hoped that the election processes in both regions was an indicator for an increasingly democratic governing. However, unless a free press is protected, and journalists are safe and can access state information, neither can truly be a democratic region.
In his interview with Deutsche Welle, political analyst Kamal Chomani stated that he had criticised the mass corruption, family rule and mismanagement within the Kurdistan region and Iraq. This forced Chomani to leave Kurdistan for Hamburg, Germany in 2018 following threats. He states that “your views either put you in danger or you keep silent like many other journalists… or you leave in exile.”
Similarly, human rights lawyer, Reving Yassin Nabi stated that “journalists with no party affiliation and who report corruption are in trouble.” He continued with the affirmation that the “pressure on journalists has reached a degree that many journalists are considering quitting their jobs to stop living a life of threats and fears.”
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) the number of journalists killed across Iraq since the liberation stands at 185, this excludes the number of those which have been kidnapped, wounded or arrested as no clear figures are available. The absence of a free press surely weakens the structures of democracy, especially when those threatening and pressuring these journalists are themselves government officials. Journalism provides transparency which brings to light flaws among governments and signs of corruption, helping to decrease both. However, by using terms such as “fake news”, this degradation of journalism undermines the work of journalists who often risk their lives to achieve this. As a result, those in control can continue to manipulate power structures for their advantage with minor challenges.
Aside from the violence journalists face with Iraq and Kurdistan, legislation also exists to curb public access to information. In 2013 the Kurdistan Regional Government passed legislation guaranteeing access to information. However, it has been noted by critics that the language embedded within the law is often vague and the law itself contains vast exceptions. Therefore, due to its poor and biased implementation, the law has rarely been utilised by journalists. In Iraq, the government-controlled National Communications and Media Commission (CMC) is responsible for regulating the broadcasting of media. The call for a state of emergency amid the ISIS offensive in 2014 gave the government-funded CMC the perfect setting to implement regulated guidelines for the media. One provision required the media to implement patriotism and take caution when broadcasting material which may not be in accordance with the moral and patriotic values required for the war on terror. Kurdistan had also received similar guidelines. These guidelines placed upon journalist outlets seem to convey that the press was encouraged to focus on accomplishments of the government rather than the unbiased truth.
While this is prevalent within the regions of Kurdistan and Iraq, this is also becoming a global issue as more countries are introducing pressures on journalists who speak out against governments and corruption. This war on journalism may be seen as the first step in the breakdown of democracy. Larry Diamond, a political scientist at Stanford University, had predicted this democratic recession and warns of the evolvement of an era of tyranny.
In order to tackle this growing issue, groups such as the CPJ need to continue to embed transparency into the machinations of political regimes. It is necessary for journalists to have better access to support services and legal aid. Journalists are often our insight into the truth but to continue this fight, more support and protection is required.
The prosecution of journalists by those in power is abhorrent and impacts society as a whole. Silencing the truth aids no one bar the minority in power. The protection of journalists must be invested in, as without their determination to uncover the truth about corrupt organisations and individuals who are causing the decay of democratic structures, no one would be held accountable.