The Media Reality in Iraqi Kurdistan
Issue 14, Summer 2011
A light-hearted invitation to journalists to visit Iraqi Kurdistan
The Role of Freedom of Expression and Democracy in Kurdistan: can freedom of press exist in a federal region of Iraq?
“We are inspired by you [President Barack Obama] and the values of the free world led by the United States of America. As a symbol of freedom, democracy and equality in the free world, we are seeking your help” - Shaswar Qadir, co-founder of Nalia Television Radio
“I am proud to be a Kurd. I didn’t choose to be Kurdish; I did choose to be a Muslim. I wish to live in a country that there are neither women nor men rights, but human rights. Here it won’t happen and my dream will never come true.” - Tawar Rasheed, former Human Rights Watch Iraq employee and real estate developer
Eight years after the United States and its allies invaded Iraq, the country’s transition to a functioning democracy with press freedom is far from accomplished, even in the northern region that U.S. officials have sometimes touted as model for the country.
Shortly after the February demonstrations in Suleymaniyah, Kurdistan, which left eight people dead, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) wrote to Kurdistani President Massoud Barzani to say that despite improvements in the representation of democratic voices in the region, the organization was concerned about the deterioration in the situation of journalists there since February 17.
In the aftermath of the 2003 invasion, Iraq underwent a media boom. Hundreds of new publications, television and radio stations sprang up across the country, and Iraqis gained access to satellite dishes and the Internet. In Kurdistan, the semi-autonomous and federal region of Iraq, independent media flourished. But in the years since the occupation, the media has fallen short of the promise. A power vacuum bred violence and later civil strife made Iraq the deadliest country in the world for journalists between 2003 and 2008, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Even after security improved in 2008 and a new coalition government was formed in Kurdistan in 2010, restrictive legislation and other barriers denied journalists the right to access information.
In addition, extremists and unknown assailants, some apparently linked to political parties, continue to kill media workers and torch their offices. Increasingly, journalists and media advocates find themselves threatened, arrested and physically assaulted by security forces linked to government institutions and political parties, reported the Iraq branch of Human Rights Watch.