Iraq: Jan ‘08

Kurdish parliamentarian says IWPR reporting will influence review of much criticised media legislation.

Iraq: Jan ‘08

Kurdish parliamentarian says IWPR reporting will influence review of much criticised media legislation.

Thursday, 31 January, 2008
A top Kurdish lawmaker said he would try to ease punishments against journalists after reading an IWPR Iraq story on controversial Kurdish press legislation.

The Kurdish parliament passed a press law last month that drew the ire of Iraqi journalists as well as international media rights organisations for being too restrictive.

Kurdistan Regional Government president Masood Barzani refused to sign the press law following the public outcry, as IWPR reported in the

Story “President to Reject Press Law”, published on December 21. KRG’s parliament will redraft the legislation.

Under the press law that Barzani rejected, journalists would have had to pay heavy fines and publications could have been shut down for vague offences. In addition, reporters and editors could have been jailed for up to 15 years under a provision that allowed journalists to be tried under the region’s anti-terrorism law.

Kareem Bahree, head of parliament's legal committee, which drafted the original legislation and will work on the new law, praised IWPR’s story, saying it was “very objective and presented different views on the topic".

"The story highlights some issues that are good for us, especially for when we review the press law,” said Bahree. “For example, the punishments are heavy, so we will try to ease them. We will also try to make certain that the anti-terrorism law does not have any place in the press law."

IWPR Iraq’s reporters and editors were able to get details of the law despite it never being made public. MP Khaman Zirar praised the story for “accurately reflecting what happened. It was very objective".

IWPR Iraq closely followed and regularly reported on the press law debate over the last two years.

Both independent and pro-government journalists - who were split over earlier versions of the press law - eventually united to oppose the legislation, saying it was too restrictive.

Indeed, journalists throughout Iraq called on Barzani to reject the law. After parliament approved it, IWPR Iraq alerted press rights groups such as Article 19, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

“The law received very little coverage in the international press. We wanted to make sure these organisations were aware of what had happened,” said Iraq editor Mariwan Hama-Saeed.

After IWPR told the New York-based CPJ of the development, the advocacy group lobbied against the legislation. Under pressure from local journalists and CPJ, Barzani decided to veto the law.

CPJ had spoken to Kurdish leaders and journalists about the proposed press law and other media rights issues during a trip to region in October. During the visit, IWPR told the committee about the controversies regarding the draft legislation and other issues of concern to journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan.

IWPR was “extremely helpful in providing us with useful [journalistic] contacts and also political contacts which proved extremely helpful for us in our mission,” said Joel Campagna, Middle East senior program coordinator for CPJ.

IWPR provided “some of the few English sources on the law”, he said. “I thought [the stories] were very helpful in framing the issue and highlighting the concerns that Kurdish journalists had.”

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