Since March 2003, 230 journalists and media assistants have been killed in Iraq, making the war the deadliest war for journalists since World War II.
Reporters Without Borders, the human rights organization that works for freedom of press around the world, has released a report called The Iraq War: A Heavy Death Toll for the Media that claims that Iraq has also been the biggest market for hostages, with at least 93 abducted and 42 executed in the past seven years.
While Iraq was under Saddam Hussein, freedom of the press did not exist. After the U.S. invasion, Iraqi media publications started to flourish, and the U.S. established the Iraqi Media Network. In June 2004, the U.S. turned the country over to Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who voiced distrust of the media and prohibited the Qatari-based news network Al Jazeera from operating within Iraq. In November 2004, during the Iraq-U.S. resistance to the Sunnni insurgence, the interim government asked the media to report objectively, which it defined as “clearly the government position which represents the aspirations of the majority of the Iraqi people.” In 2006, under a new administration, media outlets were prohibited from blood, murder scenes or bombings, arguing that such exposure would incite violence and exacerbate religious and ethnic tensions.
From 2004 to 2007, at least one journalist died every month, but since 2008, the death toll has dropped considerably. While at first most deaths were caused by acts of terrorism or guerrilla attacks, 2005 and on showed more targeted killings. Journalists have also been subject to arbitrary arrest by both the Iraqi and U.S. governments due to suspicions that they may be collaborating with “the enemy.”
An overwhelming 87 percent of slain journalists were Iraqi. According to the report, one reason for this is the fact that as the war dragged on, the number of foreign journalists sharply declined. In addition, Iraqi journalists may be perceived as being a product of occupation forces, or traitors to their country.As a result, many Iraqi media outlets have closed, and journalists have sought refuge in neighboring Jordan and Syria.
Reporters Without Borders stresses that journalists are considered non-combatant civilians by the Geneva Conventions. The Pentagon has not recognized the special status held by journalists, and consequently, there is no protocol or special department to investigate the arrests or deaths by the U.S. military.
However Iraq must also take a leading role in protecting journalists. In October 2008, the Iraqi government created a special police unit to investigate journalist murders, but only 1 percent of perpetrators have been identified, and even less have been arrested. In addition, a proposed law that would protect journalists has been stalled by Parliament since September 2009. But with the most recent death of a journalist earlier this month, it is imperative that all sides take action to ensure that people can freely investigate and report the news without putting their lives on the line.