World Press Freedom Day unites Iraqi journalists
A call for a freedom of information law was supported by a chorus of 1000 journalists and media workers when reporters and bloggers from all over Iraq observed World Press Freedom Day in Baghdad on 3 May. A full day of activities centered on an open letter to the government requesting passage of a freedom of information law that would meet international standards and guarantee access to public documents.
"Without a law, providing the legal basis for the press to be the fourth estate and a true watchdog, there is no freedom for journalists in Iraq," said one of the local organizers of the event Ziyad al-Ajili, the head of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, a leading press freedom advocacy group in the country.
The United Nations strongly supports the passage of a freedom of information law. The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to Iraq, Ad Melkert, was unequivocal in stating the UN support for a law that would meet international standards. "The United Nations would be very happy to support the Iraqi Parliament and Iraqi organizations to make this freedom of information law come true. This would be my wish for the year ahead," said Melkert.
The Iraqi celebration drew its inspiration from UNESCO's main celebration in Brisbane, Australia, held under the theme of Freedom of Information: The Right to Know. Iraq was a prominent feature at the Brisbane celebration as well. The chief editor of Aswat Al Iraq, Zuhair Al Jezairy, one of the speakers at the main World Press Freedom Day Conference in Australia, read an open letter to the audience.
Taking into account the time difference, Al Jezairy's presentation coincided with the speech of the Iraqi journalist Nadjha Kadhim in Baghdad. Nadjha Kadhim is a member of the Temkin Group, a coalition of press advocacy groups, journalists and journalism educators that has been working on a draft law for several months. In his address Kadhim highlighted the five minimum standards for a quality freedom of information law:
<li>maximum facilitated disclosure,
<li>protection of whistleblowers,
<li>limited scope of exceptions,
<li>independent appeals mechanisms, and
<li>strong proactive disclosure rules.
The main hall of the Alwiya Club in Baghdad, where the celebration took place, fell silent for one minute to honour the reporters and media workers who were killed in Iraq while accomplishing their duty of journalists. Among those attending the event was Imad al-Ebadi, Director of Al-Diyar TV, who nearly died when several bullets tore his body last November.
Bloggers, who were invited for the first time to this kind of event, provided a nearly real-time report of the celebrations. Qais, a blogger from Kirkuk, stressed the pioneering spirit that opened the event to the world: "This was a very important day for me as a blogger and a new media professional, because it allowed me to introduce the event in my country to the global community."
The celebration was made possible through the fruitful cooperation between UNESCO's Iraq Office, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), IREX, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and the Iraqi Journalistic Freedom's Observatory.