RSF urges Iraqi authorities to protect journalists in the field

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges the Iraqi authorities to do everything possible to protect journalists in the field after two Iraqi journalists were killed and at least ten others were injured while covering the military offensive aimed at retaking the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State jihadi rebels.

Ali Raysan, a 33-year-old cameraman with Iraq’s Al-Sumaria TV, was killed by an Islamic State sniper while filming clashes near Al-Shura, a village in the Al-Qaraya region south of Mosul, on 22 October.

Ahmed Hajer Oglu, a 30-year-old TV reporter, was fatally shot by an IS sniper while covering clashes between Peshmerga forces and IS fighters on 21 October in the city of Kirkuk (170 km southeast of Mosul), where IS launched a counter-offensive. His death was reported by Turkmeneli TV, the Kirkuk-based Turkmen TV station he worked for.

We deplore the deaths of these two journalists in the course of their work,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “In view of the dangers of journalism in a war zone, especially in Iraq, we remind all parties to the conflict that they are required by the Geneva Conventions and its additional protocols to protect journalists. At the same time, journalists covering the conflict should also take care not to endanger either their sources or the conflict’s participants.”

According to a 22 October release by the Metro Centre for Journalists Rights and Advocacy, a local NGO, 10 journalists have also been wounded while covering the offensive in northern Iraq. They include Arian Brawari and Rasti Khaled of the Kurdish-language Waar TV and freelancer Ari Jalal, who were injured in an explosion Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul.

Bishtiwan Hussein of Zagros TV and Hajer Brawari and Yasser Abdulrahman of Speda TV were wounded by explosions near Tel Skuf (north of Mosul) and Bashiqa. Ahmed Al-Zaidi, a reporter for Iraq’s Al-Forat TV, was wounded in the leg by a mortar explosion on 20 October. Rasoul Mahmoud, a freelancer covering the offensive for Radio Free Europe, was badly injured in Mosul by a mortar explosion, sustaining multiple fractures and the likely loss of one eye. Bryan Denton, a US photographer working for the New York Times, was injured by a car bomb near Bartella, east of Mosul.

Heavily covered conflict

A national media coalition was established on 17 October by the state-owned Iraqi Media Network with the aim of ensuring a national media strategy in support of the military offensive, countering rumours that could adversely affect military operations, and providing media outlets with technical and material support.

The Al-Iraqiya, Al-Sumaria, Hona Baghdad, Al-Rasheed, Al-Forat, Al-Hadath and ANB TV channels are all part of the coalition, which produces a joint TV news programme every evening and coordinates communication campaigns on social networks.

The offensive is receiving a great deal of media coverage, including on social networks, with live broadcasting on Facebook. But the public prosecutor’s office in Iraqi Kurdistan issued an order on 24 October banning three TV channels – Rudaw TV, Kurdistan 24 and NRT TV – from providing live coverage from any of the frontlines.

The grounds given by the public prosecutor’s office in a communiqué was the need to protect troops and ensure respect for journalistic ethics. The communiqué cited the case of the fighting in Kirkuk where, it said, Kurdish forces were put in danger because unprofessional live coverage revealed their positions.

The media in Iraqi Kurdistan have long been the victims of a power struggle between the leading Kurdish political parties, a struggle that has been exacerbated by the offensive against Islamic State.

On 21 October, for example, the Nalia Media Corporation’s broadcast outlets – NRT, NRT2, Nalia Radio – were banned by the Ministry of the Peshmerga (Iraqi Kurdistan’s military forces) from going to Mosul and are having to cover the fighting from afar. According to NRT, the ban was a reprisal for a broadcast in which Peshmerga's lack of unity was criticized by guests, including a former parliamentarian of the opposition party Goran (Change).

According to RSF sources, the office of the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government has also banned two opposition TV channels – KNN TV and Payam TV –from reporting from Mosul since the start of the offensive. They are nonetheless allowed to cover clashes in cities controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s two ruling parties.

In October 2015, RSF and its partner organization in Iraq, the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO) issue a joint report about the appalling media freedom violations in Mosul since Islamic State seized control of the city in June 2014. The offensive to retake Mosul was launched on 17 October.

Ranked 158th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, Iraq is one of the world’s deadliest countries for journalists.

Publié le 26.10.2016
Mise à jour le 26.10.2016