Nothing to See Here: US Journos Decamp, Iraqi Journos Not So Lucky
Watching the US media, it’s hard to remember that we have an army occupying Iraq these days. In fact, the Washington Post reports that the American media presence is withering:
U.S. military officials say they "embedded" journalists 219 times in September 2007. Last month, the number shrank to 39. Of the dozen U.S. newspapers and newspaper chains that maintained full-time bureaus in Baghdad in the early years of the war, only four are still permanently staffed by foreign correspondents. CBS and NBC no longer keep a correspondent in Baghdad year-round.
And those reporters who remain in Iraq are being discouraged from covering the real news – perhaps to avoid reporting stories that contradict the “surge worked” dogma?
"It’s very clear that they are trying to push us away from active areas of combat and trying to push us to places" where reconstruction and training are underway, said Associated Press bureau chief Robert H. Reid.
Of course, US media has depended more and more on Iraqi journalists to get the story for them for several years. And these journalists have been prime victims of the violence unleashed by the occupation – just yesterday “Diyar Abbas Ahmed, who worked for a privately-owned local news agency, was gunned down near a hotel in the city centre” in Kirkuk, “the 222nd media worker to be killed in Iraq since March 2003.”
And while the killings continue, there’s also an
“… upsurge in the number of arrests of journalists by Iraqi security forces or members of the coalition,” the worldwide press freedom organisation [Reporters without Borders] said. “To date the number of arrests in 2008 has already passed the number last year. Simply possessing a camera or a film camera seems to be taken as evidence that some journalists are involved in terrorist networks.”
In just the past month or so, two Reuters media workers have been detained by joint US and Iraqi raids:
Ibrahim Jassam Mohammed, an Iraqi who has supplied photos and video to Reuters on a freelance basis for about two years, was detained a week ago and is still being held. The American military said he was regarded as a "security threat".
[Cameraman Omar] Hisham, who was detained in a predawn raid last Thursday, said U.S. forces held him in a small, cold cell.
"I am tired psychologically because I am innocent," he said.
Hisham was held for just two days while a third Reuters cameraman Ali al-Mashhadani “was held for three weeks without charges.”
It all makes me wonder if there are stories the occupying forces don’t want told.
At the same time, the US propaganda operation is kicking into higher gear:
The U.S. military plans to spend an additional $15 million a year during the next three years on polling and focus groups to help "build robust and positive relations with the people of Iraq, the Post reported, quoting a proposal seeking private contractors for the program.
If only folks in Iraq could be distracted by this marketing buzz – unlike Americans who will see less of the devastation of Iraq in the news, Iraqis see it daily on their own streets.
When a press conference by the advisory commission of the Shabak, an Iraqi ethnic minority demanding their rights, turned heated today parliament security guards held 35 journalists against their will and confiscated their equipment. They stopped broadcasts and cut off internet lines so no journalist could file the news to their offices, the Journalistic Freedom Observatory an independent Iraqi organization that monitors violations of press freedom.