How did the Iraqi press - one of the most vibrant and independent presses in the Middle East from 1920 to 1958 - degenerate into an official organ whose sole purpose is to disseminate propaganda on behalf of the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein?
A report just issued today by Reporters without Borders outlines the history of the Iraqi press through the 20th century. After the 1958 revolution, media censorship became a way of life in Iraq. In this very unstable environment, the freedom that had been extended to journalists gradually started to erode, while more and more newspapers were shut down. In 1979, Saddam Hussein was elected Iraq’s President. All of the newspapers that had failed to support the Ba’ath Party’s rise to power were closed. It was then that the systematic and bloody persecution of dissidents and journalists began. Since 1979, dozens of them have had to endure judicial and police harassment, jailings and torture. A large number of them have either been executed or have vanished.
What distinguishes the Ba-athist regime is that its reign of terror not only targets journalists but their families and communities as well. The use of satellite television as a weapon of pressure and blackmail proves that intimidations by Saddam Hussein’s regime can reach far beyond the country’s borders.
Following the Persian Gulf War (1991), Uday Saddam Hussein - the Iraqi President’s oldest son - became the kingpin of media censorship, free to award privileges or impose terror tactics at will. As the Chairman of the Iraqi Journalists’ Union, and a press magnate, the man who insists on being called the "doyen of journalists" has total control over the print media, radio and television. His influence over Baghdad’s media is even more decisive today than that of the Minister of Information.
From early 1979 through the 1990s, some 400 Iraqi journalists who chose to live in exile are still living in foreign countries. Some of them work with the Iraqi press in exile, which exemplifies the status of the Iraqi opposition - weak, divided and frequently displaying authoritative tendencies - as described by the founder of the Azzaman newspaper, based in London.
For years, the Iraqi population has been deprived of its right of free speech for years and has been watched very closely. The work of foreign journalists and their access to information is particularly difficult. By arbitrarily denying them visas and constantly threatening them with expulsion and by forbidding them to work, the Baghdad regime is keeping the media on very tight leash.
Consult the full report