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[casi] US military & free speech Gives with one hand, takes away with the other

June 11, 2003

Iraq: US military & free speech Gives with one hand,
takes away with the other

Iraq's all-powerful civilian chief L. Paul Bremer III will not tolerate
'hate speech' from Iraq's newly freed media. To prove it he has assigned
himself absolute power over the Iraqi press. Freedom of expression is in his
gift and only the 'responsible' may enjoy it. Rohan Jayasekera comments.
To the average Iraqi, almost nothing the Americans do makes sense. Each one
is a schizophrenic beast, as likely to smile and hand out a sweet to a child
as it is liable to open fire on a street protest or club a careless driver.

The contradiction is in the mission; the US military came to Iraq to win a
war, not wage a peace. The majority of US troops believe they came to Iraq
as liberators. The Iraqis tend to think differently. The US authorities
think their problem is their failure to get their message across. The Iraqis
already get too many messages from the Americans, and almost all of them are

What kind of message did the US military send to the Iraqis when it seized
"editorial control" of Mosul city's only TV station because of its
"predominantly non-factual/unbalanced news coverage" - meaning the
re-broadcasting of Qatari Arab satellite network al-Jazeera?

"We have every right as an occupying power to stop the broadcast of
something that will incite violence," Major General David Petraeus told
reporters after being alerted to the offending broadcasts. "Yes, what we are
looking at is censorship but you can censor something that is intended to
inflame passions."

According to a Wall Street Journal report, a US army major was relieved of
her duties and removed from the base when she argued that the order
contravened principles of free speech. After all, these are principles
guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States, which every US soldier
must "solemnly swear" to "support and defend".

But these contradictions fly everywhere. Having invested $20 million dollars
over three months in the rebuilding of Iraqi state TV & radio, renamed the
Iraqi Media Network (IMN), the US officials in charge of the contract began
balking at the new network's news output immediately it went on air.

Managers were told to drop the readings from the Koran, the 'vox-pop'
man-in-the-street interviews (usually critical of the US invasion) and even
to run their content past the wife of a US-friendly Iraqi Kurdish leader for
a pre-broadcast check. The station rejected the demands and dug in their
heels. "As journalists we will not submit to censorship," Dan North, a
Canadian documentary maker training Iraqis at the station, told Reuters.

US civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer III, in charge of the occupying
powers' Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), was said to be infuriated by
the conflicting strategies in place at the IMN, which has two TV stations, a
brace of local and national radio stations and two newspapers under

Even more annoyingly for the US chief, the country's Shi'a broadcasters had
made much more use of much less extensive support from Iran to get their
networks on air, for more hours with more news. Almost all of it was hostile
to the US-British occupation forces.

A daily drip feed of increasingly embittered media coverage is turning into
a flood, with every political faction in the new Iraq opening up new
newspapers in Baghdad, and using them to voice popular frustration at the
rising crime rate and failing public services on the Americans' watch.

Every day brings new allegations and abuse. The papers representing
political parties hostile to the US post unattributed reports of all kinds,
accusing the western forces of gang rape, robbery and numerous 'insults to
Islam'. One of Baghdad's scores of scrappy publications has begun printing
clips from the so-called 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion' - the
anti-Semitic Russian Tzarist-era forgery that purports to reveal plans for
Jewish world domination.

But now the US authorities have declared 'enough'.

Bremer issued tough new rules governing the Iraqi media on 28 May to sort
the mess out. All Iraqi media must now be registered. Licences will be
revoked and equipment confiscated from media sources that break the rules.
Individual offenders "may be detained, arrested, prosecuted and, if
convicted, sentenced by relevant authorities to up to one year in prison and
a $1,000 fine". Appeal is to Bremer only, and his decision is final.

Bremer's nine point list of "Prohibited Activities" include incitement to
racial, ethnic or religious hatred, advocating support for the banned
pre-war Ba'ath party, and publishing material that "is patently false and is
calculated to provoke opposition to the CPA or undermine legitimate
processes towards self-government".

Officials say the order is intended to stop 'hate speech' - the kind of hot
language they say could trigger violence between Iraqis and westerners, or
possibly Iraqi Sunni and Shi'a or Arab and Iraqi Kurd.

"There's no room for hateful and destabilising messages that will destroy
the emerging Iraqi democracy," former IMN official Mike Furlong told the
Associated Press in June. "All media outlets must be responsible."

This is a long way from the stand made by Furlong's IMN colleague Don North
the month before. "This whole idea (IMN) was about starting the genesis of
an open media," he said at the time, "so we will not accept an outside
source scrutinising what we produce."

No more. And Bremer's order was only the start. It also marked a
transformation for the IMN - from independent broadcaster driven by First
Amendment principles to something else again entirely. On Bremer's order the
IMN has been transformed into a mini-ministry to replace the old Iraqi
ministry of information, made world famous by wartime Saddam propagandist
minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf.

Bremer "reserves the power to advise" the IMN on any aspect of its
performance, "including any matter of content" and the power to hire and
fire IMN staff. Thus the man in absolute authority over the country's
largest, richest and best equipped media network is also his own regulator
and regulator of his rivals, with recourse to the US Army to enforce his

Under the direction of former Voice of America chief Robert Reilly, the IMN
was created in April 2003 by US defence technology giant Scientific
Applications International Corp (SAIC) under contract to the Pentagon.
SAIC's relevant speciality is what it calls "Information Dominance/Command
and Control" - a nine point programme, according to its website, that begins
with 'Battlefield Control' and ends with 'Information Warfare/Information

This kind of seamless link between military command and media management was
what the Pentagon had in mind when it issued the contract to SAIC. A
successor to the fuzzy TV broadcasts from USAF EC-130E 'Commando Solo'
psyops (psychological operations) planes and the radio broadcasts beamed
from US army transmitters mounted on Humvee jeeps.

It was the Pentagon that objected loudest to the resignation of the
politically conservative Reilly as the director of the Voice of America, and
welcomed his appointment as chief of the Defense Department's media
programme in Iraq.

Reilly fell out with the VOA board of governors over his 'ideological' views
on what he and the Defense Department thought was the VOA's duty, to tell
America's story to the nations it opposed. He famously called the fighting
in Afghanistan a "war of ideas," with the VOA "on one side in that war".

With Reilly gone the VOA joined a 'coalition of the unwilling' with the
Pentagon in Iraq. "We are not in the psychological operation or propaganda
business," VOA middle east chief Norm Pattiz told the Christian Science
Monitor, citing the Pentagon initiatives. "Without the credibility of
balanced, reliable, and truthful news, we would have no audience."

"Under the last regime, it was illegal to criticise the government," Bremer
told Iraqi journalists. "Now you are free to criticise whoever, or whatever
you want." But, he added, "with freedom comes responsibility".

Reilly says he hopes IMN will evolve into a "PBS-style" responsible public
broadcaster. Even the censorious paratrooper Petraeus told the Washington
Post that Iraq needed "something akin" to the Communications Regulatory
Agency set up in Bosnia "to establish standards and procedures for cases in
which those standards are broken."

The issue is whether Reilly, and the IMN - a media network sired by Pentagon
contract out of US Army psyops, soon to be Iraq's largest, most powerful and
only truly national media corporation, topped by L. Paul Bremer III, a man
with absolute power over its activities and its rivals - have taken the
right route to these destinations.

If Iraq needs media regulation, it should be independent. If it needs media
at all, it should be more independent than this.

 Rohan Jayasekera visited Iraq in May as part of Index on Censorship's
contribution to a combined survey of the Iraqi media, shortly to be
published by its partner author groups. Index on Censorship is currently
developing training programmes for the independent Iraqi media to run during

Comment on this article.


 Index on Censorship reports from Baghdad on the new Iraqi media.

 Earlier fears of a US military controlled media in Iraq.

 The Bremer diktats in full (pdf files)

 Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 6: Establishment of the Iraqi
Media Network.

 Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 7: Monitoring and Preventing
Media Activity Inimical to the Security of the Coalition Provisional

 Public Notice: Office of the Administrator of the Coalition Provisional
Authority, Baghdad, Iraq, Regarding Public Incitement to Violence and
Disorder: May 29, 2003.

 Toronto Star report on the Iraqi media.

 Washington Post report on US radio broadcasts to Iraq.

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