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Profile: RFE/RL's Iraq Service (part 1)


Laith Ahmed, Coordinator of the Baghdad bureau of RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq.

Laith Ahmed, Coordinator of the Baghdad bureau of RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq.

Iraq continues to be one of the most dangerous places for journalists – it placed 158th out of 173 in Reporters Without Borders’ 2008 Press Freedom Index. The 12 journalists in Prague and 31 stringers in the country who work for RFE/RL’s Radio Free Iraq (RFI) face significant challenges in delivering the news to Iraqi citizens.

In the first of a three-part series of interviews profiling RFE/RL's Iraq service, we talked to Laith Ahmed, the Coordinator of Radio Free Iraq's Baghdad bureau who recently visited RFE/RL’s Prague headquarters for training.

Laith talks about being in the middle of a firefight in the streets of Baghdad, the challenges of working for a US media organization in Iraq, and how to be a "clever" Iraqi journalist. Highlights are below – or read the full transcript here.




On the difficult media environment for RFI journalists...

  • "...the security situation is better, but the fact is that we are still afraid because of the armed groups – we call them in Iraq al-khilaya al-na’ima, the 'sleeper cells' ...They [are trying] every waking moment to do what they can [to attack us]. But mostly, the security situation [is] much better than if we talked about it perhaps one year [ago]."
  • "Another important thing is that the security [forces personnel] in Iraq, they don't have enough human rights education on how to deal with reporters. So many times they hit the reporters, they put them in jail...and it is difficult, it is a new challenge for us."
  • "One of our colleagues was in a situation where the security police came to [defuse] a bomb, and she was there [and] made a report about it. Once I was near [the scene of] a car bomb when it exploded. Once I was near the al-Qaeda armed group…there was a [firefight] between them and the American forces and Iraqi forces. I was there – not because I decided to be there, but I just happened to be there."

On the challenge of working for an American media organization in Iraq...

  • "We have some special [challenges] because our radio is an American-funded organization and this makes it more difficult for us. Because the idea [in Iraq] is if you work with an American organization – even if it is balanced and you [aren't biased against any side] – you are still working with the Americans. This is a difficult thing for us because some people think of us as 'spies' or 'agents' or something like that."
  • However, American funding is not a problem "for maybe 60 percent of Iraqis. They like Radio Free Iraq…they like our subjects, our balance, you know about things even two or three months before [other news sources], such as fighting between Sunni and Shi'a…this is the great thing that RFI does – we make [it] balanced. This is not like most [media] organizations in Iraq, they take sides."

On the state of Iraqi journalism...

  • "There are two sides, one positive and one negative. There are many -- maybe thirty or forty -- media organizations in Iraq, [but] not all of them are high quality. But in my opinion, I have found that Iraqi journalists are much better than perhaps four years [ago]."
  • The biggest problem hindering the development of Iraqi journalism? "Maybe money. Because the [domestic media] organizations pay a little bit of money to their journalists, and then the journalists don’t care about developing themselves [as long as they get paid]. And they stay at the same level. But there are some NGOs that develop journalists in Iraq."
  • "If you want to be a clever journalist in Iraq you should have a good relationship with the politicians, with the economists, to know what [will] happen before it happens."

--Alex Mayer
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