Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 22
Political Influences: 33
Economic Pressures: 16
Total Score: 71
Life Expectancy: 59
Religious Groups: Muslim (97 percent) [Shia Muslim (60-65 percent), Sunni Muslim (32-37 percent)], other [including Christian] (3 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Arab (75-80 percent), Kurd (15-20 percent), other [including Turkmen and Assyrian] (5 percent).
While Iraqis continued to benefit from a wide diversity of media sources resulting from a media boom that began with the ouster of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003, press freedom suffered some serious blows in 2005. The legal framework for guaranteeing press freedom and regulating the media remained unclear. For most of the year, the Law for the Administration of the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period, adopted by the UN-recognized Iraqi interim administration, remained in force, as did orders regulating the media issued in 2004 by the Coalition Provisional Authority. Iraq's interim prime minister renewed a "state of emergency" (declared in November 2004 and numerous times throughout the year) that applied to all areas of Iraq except the northern Kurdish governorates. On October 15, Iraqis voted to adopt a permanent constitution, which included provisions guaranteeing freedom of press and expression "in a way that does not violate public order or morality," according to Article 36. In addition, Articles 101 and 102 outline a financially and administratively independent National Communications and Media Commission. However, like many other articles in the constitution, they do not specify the commission's mandate or define its implementing regulations and legislation. Legal analysts have noted that some archaic laws dating from Saddam Hussein's rule remain on the books, including restrictive insult, antidefamation, and state secrets laws. In addition, Iraqi officials used restrictive press legislation enacted by regional government authorities to curtail press freedom. In December, a Kurdish court in Erbil convicted Kamal Karim on defamation changes and sentenced him to 30 years in prison. Karim had published articles on an independent Kurdish website critical of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and its leader Massoud Barzani. Despite appeals from international press freedom advocates, Karim remained in jail at year's end. In the southern city of Kut, two journalists faced charges of defaming the police and judiciary after writing an article critical of provincial officials. The case was still pending by the end of the year.
The ongoing instability and violence remain the biggest threats to press freedom, with terrorists and Iraqi insurgent groups conducting targeted kidnappings and attacks on the media. Iraq continued to be one of the most dangerous places in the world to work as a journalist, with 23 journalists and media professionals killed in 2005. By the end of the year, more journalists had been killed in Iraq since 2003 than were killed in 20 years of the Vietnam conflict. Iraqi and coalition forces also detained and arrested numerous journalists, and several media workers were killed by military forces in the country. Though most journalists operated without legal or bureaucratic restrictions, the pervasive climate of violence severely restricted the scope of media coverage of events in Iraq. Self-censorship increased as a result of intimidation from violent groups including sectarian militias throughout the country.
Iraq has more than 100 daily and weekly publications, and dozens of new private television and radio channels emerged throughout the country. Nearly all media outlets are privately owned and operated, but most of these outlets are affiliated with ethnic, sectarian, or partisan groups. The most watched television channel in Iraq, the state-funded Al-Iraqiya, was accused of sectarian bias. Modeled after the Public Broadcasting Service in the United States, Al-Iraqiya was accused of becoming a propaganda tool for the country's top Shiite politicians. Access to foreign satellite television, previously banned in all of Iraq under Saddam Hussein (except in the northern Kurdish regions since 1991), grew in 2005. However, authorities continued to ban the regional satellite channel Al-Jazeera from operating in the country because of allegations that it was inciting violence. Although the independent press has grown tremendously, economic hardship has hindered the ability of independent publications to sustain themselves. Access to the internet grew during the year, with many internet cafés opening up in Iraqi cities and no direct government restriction on access to, or operation of, the internet.
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