Between terrorism, political instability and protests, journalists face threats from all sides and come up against the weakness of the state, which is failing in its duty to protect them.
Iraq’s media are closely linked to its political parties, which control their editorial policies. The TV channel Al-Forat, for example, is linked to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (one of the main Shia parties). Religious communities have their own media outlets, such as the Christian Ishtar TV. The Kurds are very organised in media terms, and opposition parties find their voice through channels such as NRT TV, which is linked to the “New Generation” movement.
Extreme polarisation due to political influence on the media, makes balanced, independent information almost impossible to come by. Journalists struggle to defend their rights, and most have been subjected to constant threats since 2019. Many media outlets have been attacked and ransacked due to their coverage of anti-corruption protests, deemed hostile to certain political currents. In Kurdistan, critical journalists have been accused of espionage and imprisoned.
In theory, Iraq’s constitution guarantees press freedom, but some of its articles are contradicted by current laws. Public figures often bring defamation suits against journalists who name them in their investigative reporting. A cyber-crime bill that keeps being resubmitted provides for prison sentences (including life imprisonment) for online posts that endanger “the independence, unity or integrity of the country, or its economic, political, military or security interests”.
Media funding is unequally distributed and closely tied to political affiliation. The greater a political party’s resources, the more influential its affiliated media outlet. Many media outlets have abandoned editorial independence because of a lack of funds (or have simply stopped operating). The few independent media outlets that still exist – which are often local ones – have found a public on social media, but they struggle to survive.
Certain institutions and religious figures remain untouchable. It is not uncommon for media outlets to be sanctioned or suspended for investigating corruption involving senior officials. They are accused of violating media regulations or “damaging symbols of the state”.
In recent years, many journalists have been killed by armed groups, both Jihadist organisations and militias. Such killings rarely lead to investigations and those responsible go unpunished. Death threats and abduction are also often used to terrorise and silence journalists. Influential, high-profile journalists used to be the main targets of this form of intimidation but nowadays it is also used against lesser-known journalists.