Iraq’s Citizen Journalists
“Under Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime, the media were nothing more than a government mouthpiece. But after the war, it was different. I saw the need to tell the world what was happening in my country.” – Bassam Sebti, former journalist for the Washington Post in Iraq
The story of Iraq’s journalists is something near to my heart. During my first couple of weeks at EPIC, I wrote a blog post about a popular journalist who had been killed, simply for doing his job. The whole time I was thinking of one of my closest friends, Justin, who’s dream is to be a reporter for the New York Times.
This year, Iraq is ranked 152 out of a total of 179 countries on the World Press Freedom Index, and as you can see from the Committee to Protect Journalists‘ page on Iraq, journalists in Iraq face significant, life-threatening dangers. Despite these threats, however, both professional journalists and citizen journalists continue to grow and fight for the freedom of the press, and have gained the respect and admiration of the global community for their resilience.
According to National Geographic, Iraqi journalists often face greater dangers than their foreign counterparts. While foreign journalists reporting for the audience back home undoubtedly take calculated risks on assignments that take them into potentially dangerous situations – they are, at least theoretically, offered some level of protection from their news agency (unless they are on a freelance assignment), or from their national government. Local journalists face much higher stakes and are killed, just for doing their jobs, seven times more often than foreign journalists. Local journalists cover volatile news stories on their home turf, and often do so without protection. If they run into trouble, they may be abandoned (or even targeted) by their government, and many pay the ultimate price for their courageous coverage.
There is also a threat of social and familial strife. A young, female, Iraqi doctor that I know was surprised to have a marriage proposal withdrawn after she told the young man that she was a citizen journalist.
As history has shown, there are many ways to fight for what you believe in. This fight has lead to an interesting phenomenon, what scholars are describing as “a feisty new genre of blog that focused specifically on the terrorism wars,” written by Iraqis from within zones of conflict. In a recent book called Citizen Journalists: A Global Perspective, Melissa Wall describes the development of Iraq’s Citizen Journalists and the challenges they face. Of particular interest to Wall is the way in which institutional forces have sought to censor and intimidate bloggers. In the US, bloggers are hardly considered a source for reliable news – but in Iraq, where news agencies are often censored, a blog can be a cutting edge way of protesting peacefully. Wall argues that citizen journalism is poised to have a central position in the future “as amateurs play an even larger role in providing audiences with first-hand information about the world.”
So what are they fighting for? What’s so important that it’s worth risking your life? I suppose that it’s the idea of the truth – that there is truth hidden out there and that others need to know it. Furthermore, it’s a desire to hold authority figures accountable, be it a government official, a police chief, or the dean of a university.
And finally, it’s the power of an untold story – which, incidentally, is something that we at EPIC are thinking about in relation to our upcoming field project: Picturing Change, which will be announced next week. I can’t tell you much about it now, but I can promise you that it empowers kids to tell the most important stories of all: their own.
a recent graduate from SUNY New Paltz where she studied Medieval Islamic and European art history and American history and foreign policy. Born and raised in New York State, she now lives in DC and is excited to be part of the EPIC team