Iraq: Jan '08

A national media watchdog set up by IWPR wins major press freedom prize.

Iraq: Jan '08

A national media watchdog set up by IWPR wins major press freedom prize.

Tuesday, 18 March, 2008

An Iraqi journalists’ rights organisation born from IWPR’s work in the country has received international recognition from Reporters Without Borders.

The Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, an independent organisation founded and led by IWPR trainees and staffers, was awarded Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Defender prize in December “for its vital role in exposing violence and murder against journalists”, Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.

The observatory was established in 2004, when Iraqi journalists trained by IWPR decided to establish a national media watchdog to monitor attacks on journalists and defend and safeguard the rights of media workers. Several IWPR trainees and staffers established the voluntary organisation, which comprises a nationwide network of Iraqi media workers who report on problems facing journalists almost daily.

“Our organisation is unique and important because it is the only [Iraqi] voice that defends journalists,” said Ziad al-Ajili, the head of the organisation. “We are not biased toward any sect or party. We criticise anyone who violates the rights of the press without considering their backgrounds and associations.”

The observatory has tracked attacks and killings of journalists in Iraq, which international journalists’ rights organisations regard as the most dangerous place in the world for journalists.

IWPR has enjoyed close relations with the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory since it was founded.

“IWPR strongly influenced the establishment of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory,” said Ajili. “When we started taking IWPR courses, our eyes were opened to a new world and we saw things in a different light. This inspired us to found the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory.”

The observatory has also pushed for the Iraqi government to pass a press law and spoke out when the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq sought to introduce legislation that tightened restrictions on newspapers and journalists. Following pressure from journalists’ organisations, such as the observatory, KRG president Masood Barzani declined to give the proposed law his assent.

One observatory staff member, who preferred not to be named, said it has become “the news source for global news organisations regarding journalists’ issues in Iraq”.

The organisation’s members hope the award will focus international attention on the difficulties Iraqi journalists face and the observatory’s work. The group needs financial support and training provision for its network on press rights, safety skills and advanced writing and reporting skills, said Ajili.

Separately, IWPR Iraq in January launched a new monthly column for Iraqi women. The column, “Iraqi Women’s Voices”, will give women a platform to express their views on developments in the country.

The column is IWPR’s most recent effort to produce content by and for women. Women from all walks of life will be invited to share their perspectives.

In addition, IWPR was widely featured in the German media in December. German television aired a 25 minute-documentary on IWPR’s work in Iraq, and Middle East programme manager Susanne Fischer was interviewed by German Public Radio and the German newspaper Berliner Zeitung about IWPR Iraq’s programmes.

Der Spiegel also published a story Fischer wrote about Sahar al-Haideri for its 2007 chronicle. Haideri was an IWPR correspondent who was murdered in Mosul in June.

Tiare Rath is IWPR’s Middle East editorial manager.

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