World Press Freedom Day: Media Freedom to transform the Iraqi society
On 3 May 2012 and for the World Press Freedom Day, UNESCO Iraq office together with the Human Rights' Office at the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI), the Human rights Committee at the Iraqi Council of representatives and the International Media Support organization, organized a major conference at the Iraqi parliament to celebrate this special occasion and discuss the status of Freedom of press in Iraq and the ways to enhance it.
Around 200 participants from the Iraqi parliament, media and academic sectors, local and international NGOs, Civil Society and UN organizations, in addition to human rights activists and bloggers, gathered under this year's theme: "new voices: MEDIA FREEDOM HELPING TO TRANSFROM SOCIETIES".
After standing a minute of silence to pay tribute to the murdered journalists, speeches from high level Iraqi officials and UN representatives stressed the importance of Freedom of Expression in rebuilding societies, and the urgent need to take immediate steps to protect and promote Freedom of Expression in Iraq.
One of the event's highlights was the official launch of the UNESCO' commissioned Journalism Curriculum by the Minister of Higher education and Scientific Research Dr. Ali al-Adeeb. Hoping that this new Curriculum would "further develop the media in Iraq", H.E. Minister Adeeb also revealed the start of a new project to link communication arts across the media faculty and Alkuwarzmi faculty for engineering and Iraqi Media Network. H.E. said that the project "is part of comprehensive programme to reform the structure of education and to bridge the gap between the Iraqi media and the media in the world".
On the other hand, H.E. praised the efforts and courage of Iraqi journalists who are working hard to cover and reveal the truth amid the danger surrounding their career. In his speech, Dr. Adeeb considered that the priority for the Iraqi government and UNESCO should be "the production the law of the right of access of information because it is the main pillar to support the press, media and Freedom of Expression".
In his speech, the Deputy of the Special Representative of the Secretary General in Iraq Mr. Gyorgy Busztin emphasized the "need for joint actions and more efforts to achieve freedom of expression in Iraq".
Furthermore, UNESCO representative and head of the Communication and Information programme in Iraq Ms. Amani Soliman confirmed that "Iraq remains one of the most dangerous countries for journalists" as indicated recent reports, and called for coordinated interventions and improved legislations to protect journalists and fight impunity. Ms. Soliman assured UNESCO' openness to work with all concerned organizations from the public and private sector to achieve this goal.
During a second panel, participants discussed draft media legislations currently under review by the Iraqi parliament. Actual legislations are criticized by journalists and legal experts as they are considered imperfect in many ways.
The event also featured a painting exhibition fully prepared by female Iraqi artists around the theme of lack of freedom of expression, and a special corner dedicated to Iraqi bloggers who lively streamed the event for the rest of the world.
UNESCO also celebrated World Press Freedom Day in several regions throughout Iraq. In the South, bloggers’ groups together with nongovernmental and civil society organizations and local journalists marked the occasion under the umbrella of UNESCO. In the provinces of Nasiriya and Diwaniya, the events included a sketch of a play about freedom of expression as seen in rural Iraq. There were also poems recited about the importance of freedom of expression and open discussions about the media draft laws in line with the main event in Baghdad.
Even with the conclusion of direct conflicts, experts, journalists, and decision makers confirm that Iraq is still a dangerous place for journalists, as it has one of the highest numbers of casualties among journalists in the world. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 94 journalists were murdered in Iraq since 1992 until the end of 2011, with the highest impunity rate in the world as 93 cases remain unsolved. UNESCO seized this major occasion as an opportunity to strengthen its partnership with Iraqi journalists, media freedom activists, local and international organizations and the Iraqi government towards creating an appropriate environment for Freedom of Expression in the country.