Friday 13 June 2003

Censorship Of The Press

A Familiar Story For Iraqi's

by Robert Fisk

click here to visit his website Paul Bremer has ordered his legal department in Baghdad to draw up rules for press censorship. A joke, I concluded, when one of the newly styled Coalition Provisional Authority officials tipped me off last week. But no, it really is true. Two months after "liberating" Iraq, the Anglo- American authorities and their boss Paul Bremer - whose habit of wearing combat boots with a black suit continues to amaze his colleagues - have decided to control the new and free Iraqi press.

Newspapers that publish "wild stories", material deemed provocative or capable of inciting ethnic violence, will be threatened or shut down. It's for the good of the Iraqi people, you understand. A controlled press is a responsible press - which is exactly what Saddam Hussein used to say about the trashy newspapers his regime produced. It must seem all too familiar to the people of Baghdad. Now let's be fair. Many stories in the emerging newspapers of Baghdad are untrue. There is no tradition of checking reports, of giving opponents the opportunity to be heard. There are constant articles about the behaviour of American troops. One paper has claimed that US soldiers distributed postcards of naked women to schoolgirls - they even published the pictures, with Japanese script on the cards. Even the most cynical Westerner can see how this kind of lie can stir up sentiment against Iraq's new foreign occupiers.

"The people of Iraq have fallen," Waleed Rabia, a 19-year-old student, wrote in the new paper Al-Mujaha. "Invaders are in our country. The wild animals of this jungle called a world are trying to rip us apart. We've been through hard times under the old regime, but we were better then than we are now ... Look at those girls who are having sex with the Americans in their tanks, or in the bathrooms of the Palestine Hotel ... What about those Muslim girls marrying Christian foreigners? No one can accept this as a true Muslim or true Iraqi."

It isn't difficult to understand the fury that this kind of article might arouse - and the idea that the Anglo-American presence is as awful as Saddam's torturers betrays a truly eccentric mind - though it would help if certain Iraqi police officers were not admitting that they were arranging "dates" for US troops.

What the Iraqis need, of course, is journalistic help rather than censorship, courses in reporting - by experienced journalists from real democracies (rather than the version Mr Bremer seems set on creating) - rather than a colonial-style suppression of free speech.

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