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Media Matters: June 26, 2007

RFE/RL Report Reveals Weaknesses In Sunni-Insurgent Media War In Iraq

WASHINGTON, June 26, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A new report released today by RFE/RL highlights the scope of the Iraqi Sunni-based insurgency's media network.

The report suggests that the insurgent strategy's apparent strengths -- decentralization and flexibility -- are also its greatest weaknesses.

The book-length report, "Iraqi Insurgent Media: The War Of Images And Ideas" by RFE/RL regional analysts Daniel Kimmage and Kathleen Ridolfo, provides an in-depth analysis of the media efforts of Sunni insurgents, who are responsible for the majority of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq.

The popularity of online Iraqi Sunni insurgent media, the authors contend, reflects a genuine demand for their message in the Arab world.

Kimmage and Ridolfo argue that the loss of coordination and message control that results from decentralization has revealed fundamental disagreements about Iraq's present and future between nationalist and global jihadist groups in Iraq and that these disagreements are ripe for exploitation by those interested in a liberal and democratic Iraq.

The report also finds that anti-Shi'ite hate speech is an increasingly prominent part of the insurgent message. With sectarian killings on the rise in Iraq, the tenor of invective points to the possibility of even greater bloodshed. A wealth of evidence shows that hate speech paved the way for genocide in Rwanda in 1994, for example.

Iraq's Sunni insurgency has developed a sophisticated media campaign to deliver its message over the Internet through daily press releases, weekly and monthly magazines, books, video clips, full-length films, countless websites, and even television stations. Part of the target audience for insurgent media projects are mainstream Arabic-language media, which often amplify the insurgent message to a mass audience.

The popularity of online Iraqi Sunni insurgent media, the authors contend, reflects a genuine demand for their message in the Arab world. A response, no matter how lavishly funded and cleverly produced, will not eliminate this demand. The authors argue that efforts to counter insurgent media should not focus on producing better propaganda than the insurgents, or trying to eliminate the demand for the insurgent message, but rather on exploiting the vulnerabilities of the insurgent media network.

(pdf format):

The entire report

Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five

Jihad Or Local Resistance?
Al-Qaeda is finding it hard to convince audiences that local conflicts are part of a global jihad. more
Divisions Within The Insurgency
As Al-Qaeda in Iraq has adopted increasingly harsh tactics, the group has fallen out with homegrown insurgents in Iraq. more

Central Asia: Region's Reporters Need 'Structures Of Solidarity And Support'

Paul Quinn-Judge

June 26, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Paul Quinn-Judge is a long-time journalist and former Moscow bureau chief for "Time" magazine whose reporting work has taken him throughout the former Soviet Union, Southeast Asia, the Balkans, and even Washington. He has also trained journalists from Georgia and Kazakhstan during a fellowship with Knight International's International Center for Journalists. RFE/RL's Turkmen Service asked Quinn-Judge about approaches to promoting a free press in the Central Asian states.

RFE/RL: Turkmenistan is a very closed country [in which] there is no independent media and there is no freedom of the press... A similar situation can be observed in the region. You have experience working with Kazakh students and professionals. What can be done to improve the media situation in such closed countries as Turkmenistan?

Paul Quinn-Judge: I think you have to do almost everything. There seem to be no structures of protection, security, or support for journalists working in closed societies in the former Soviet space -- none that I know of. And this makes it all the more easy, I think, for many regimes to harass journalists, intimidate them, and sometimes force them out of their professions and other times, as in the case of Turkmenistan [where RFE/RL correspondent Ogulsapar Muradova died under unclear circumstances while in custody in September 2006], to kill them.

The crucial issue in all these countries is getting young people involved -- people who aren't tired, who don't "think they've seen it all," and who also may have far more skills than the older generation did because they're actually getting concrete training.

So I think, obviously, the first thing that needs to be done is coordination across the region. There need to be reporting structures, so people in each country can get the word out about what's happening to them. And I think at the moment, many journalists in the region are trying to be a little too brave and a little to discreet about things. My very strong feeling -- having watched what happens in other parts of the former Soviet space, like Chechnya -- is that when the authorities start to harass somebody in a small way, it normally means it's going to escalate. I strongly feel that, as soon as journalists come under pressure, they should start passing out the word. This presupposes some form of structure of support for journalists in the region. It could be one of the preexisting international organizations, or one of the press groups, or it might have to be something new.

But obviously, you need to work in two directions. You need to work through your own structure -- that is, through your own management and your own leadership -- and one would very strongly hope that the leadership of Radio Liberty would give support to people who've come under pressure. At the same time, the pressure -- the support -- has to come from diplomatic institutions, which is crucial in the region, because I think these countries are still very sensitive to being challenged by outside powers. Thirdly, you need structures, I think, of journalists throughout the region who keep in touch with each other, who share information -- but they also share techniques of protection and security. Until you have those [structures], it's like so much in this part of the world -- people are going to be picked off one by one. If there are no structures of solidarity and support, life is going to become even more difficult, I think, for many journalists working in the region.

RFE/RL: Recognizing the press as the vanguard of democracy, why are democratic countries who are seeking closer cooperation with energy-rich countries, like Turkmenistan, unable to put the issue of press freedom as the key point of their relations?

Quinn-Judge: Well, the problem with democratic countries tends to be that they're democratic and therefore they have very short attention spans. Each term of office of each leader basically outlines the whole expanse of the attention span that they have towards a certain country. So there's very little continuity.

So I think that in many cases, one tends to see the problem being that democratic countries take a very short-term attitude to the situation. They express enthusiasm in words for democracy and they are much more interested in very quick -- or maybe even long-lasting -- economic ties. I think much more pressure has to be put on democratic countries to behave in a way that supports movements towards democracy in countries like Turkmenistan -- without guiding it, without giving the orders. Once you start to give the orders, of course, this is the perfect excuse for any government to close you down, to pick up people. It's a very delicate path.

I see individuals, officials, I mean, from democratic countries, individual ambassadors, for example, who've been quite willing to speak out; i've seen others, who are, very sadly, silent on these issues. I would hope that an organization like Radio Liberty could not only work on giving information to people in Turkmenistan about what's happening in their country, but could also pass the word back to democratic institutions that fund them that the time has come to really give much more support. Protection is crucial, because without protection you're not going to have information. Without protection, sooner or later, in many countries, you'll just have to pull out journalists, rather than have them there and let them become martyrs. And there are people who are very brave -- almost foolishly brave, at times, and willing to stay -- but people have to have structures of support. Without that, they are taking excessive risks, and without that, also they cannot function efficiently.

RFE/RL: How can journalistic standards and freedom of expression be advanced in closed countries? What is the key to transformation? You are involved in some projects...

Quinn-Judge: In extremely closed countries, it's very hard to tell, because everything is locked down. In semi-authoritarian countries, semi-democratic countries, in countries where the media has a certain degree of freedom, I think the answer to that question is easier -- which is that you need to encourage the parts of the media which are free, or which are willing to function and are able to function more or less openly, you need to encourage [and] train very good young people to go into media, and you need to give them the opportunity in media where they can work.

To take the most free, the most democratic country in the South Caucasus/Central Asia region, Georgia -- it has a lot of problems with this because its media is moribund, its media is stagnating, which means that superb young journalists are being trained who have nowhere to go. So that's the problem in a country like that. In other countries, you have very fine journalists being trained who also have nowhere to go but [that is] for political reasons. Obviously, the crucial issue in all these countries is getting young people involved -- people who aren't tired, who don't "think they've seen it all," and who also may have far more skills than the older generation did because they're actually getting concrete training.

The sort of training that young journalists from South Caucasus [or] from Central Asia get -- in Georgia, for example -- is extremely high. So they have the skills. And I think, sooner or later, they are going to develop the critical mass where they're going to be able to play a major role. In many countries, though, we're going to see journalists have to lie low, to a certain degree, given the repressive nature of the regimes. And to change that you need not only commitment inside but [also] pressure from outside.

'New Kind Of Press Censorship' In CIS

Azerbaijani editor Eynulla Fatullayev was jailed for 2 1/2 years on libel charges in April

WASHINGTON, June 25, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A new type of media censorship has taken hold in the countries of the former Soviet Union, and the result has been a suppression of independent media.

That’s according to a new report called “Muzzling The Media: The Return Of Censorship In The Commonwealth Of Independent States” by Freedom House, which found that broadcast monopolies, oligarchic power, corrupt judiciaries, and Internet censorship has resulted in less press freedom than existed in the early 1990s.

RFE/RL correspondent Heather Maher asked Freedom House’s director of studies, Christoper Walker, to explain the report’s findings.

RFE/RL: This report says there are new forms of media control being used in the ex-Soviet region – the phrase you use is “a contemporary model of censorship.” How different is that from what was used in the past?

Christopher Walker: Well, the old Soviet model was really one that could be described as a “statefied model.” That is to say all dimensions of producing news were controlled by the state, and it made it a rather monolithic system.

The difference today, certainly in a country like Russia, is that you have a much more diverse range of tools that are being applied to control the media and I think that this is the principal difference that one sees, as a point of comparison between the Soviet period and today.

RFE/RL: The report identifies four trends in how governments are controlling what the public can read, watch, and hear -- what are those methods?

Walker: The first in the recent period is an intensification of mass media control and I think it’s fair to say that in many respects, you have insecure regimes seeking to ensure regime security by using television or to advance very, very narrow regime interests.

The second trend that we saw from our findings was that legislative measures were being used to tighten already very repressive media systems. And this was the case in a number of countries, including Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia.

The third part of the crackdown that emerged was an increasing focus on international media, including international broadcasting, so the efforts by the Russian authorities to hamper in one form or another the local partners of institutions like RFE/RL [for example] has made it more difficult for information to reach large audiences in Russia.

And the fourth part of the crackdown is one that focuses most on newspapers, which really had been a secondary interest in terms of controlling the flow of information, chiefly because newspapers, as a general matter, reach far smaller audiences.

RFE/RL: In many countries that you looked at, the Internet has become a special target of authorities’ ire. Do they fear people are exchanging and reading ideas online that are contrary to government policy?

Walker: The emergence of the Internet is certainly one of the chief points of difference between the Soviet era and today. The diffuse and mobile nature of Internet technology and the ability of individuals to post information about local communities -- or issues that aren’t finding their way into mainstream media in many of these countries -- is really a difference.

The challenge in the near- to mid-term is developing the sorts of information that can actually add value to the public debate, the political debate.

And also, of course, the concern is that at some level, there will be increasing pressures applied by the authorities who clearly aren’t so interested in having a wider discussion on this issue. I think the steps they’ve been taking in the other media are an indication of this. So there is a concern that the focus will increase in terms of regulation and perhaps intervention, to the extent it’s possible by authoritarian governments in the region.

RFE/RL: One of the most startling things about the report is that in 1994, six of the 12 ex-Soviet states you studied were considered “partly free” – and now, 13 years later, only two are. What has happened since then?

Walker: Well, one of the principal explanations for this is the consolidation of authoritarian systems by the elites that are dominating politically in most of the countries in the region, in fact. So this is probably the principal cause. There’s been a larger crackdown on independent institutions. The crackdown on the media sector is particularly disturbing. Without an open media it’s very difficult to develop larger democratic institutions and institutional goals.

The data we saw from more than a decade ago really was suggestive of media systems in a number of countries that were opening but were nascent, and not fully mature by any means. But there was sort of promise that this imperfect, pluralistic media environment could take forward steps and I think what we’ve seen in the years thereafter is that very powerful interests have managed to reorganize themselves, consolidate power, and deny the development of open and pluralistic media.

Christopher Walker (RFE/RL)

The last several years have been particularly difficult for independent media and this is something that’s borne out in the data. Most of the countries in the non-Baltic former Soviet Union have had a sharp downward trajectory; Russia has had the most precipitous decline over the last several years.

RFE/RL: Georgia and Ukraine have retained their distinction as being “partly free.”

Walker: That’s right, and in Ukraine’s case, the partly-free status emerged after the events of fall 2004, so in advance of that time, there was a quite sharp crackdown and pressure on the media in Ukraine, one of the real successes and one of the more important dimensions of the political change that occurred in late 2004 was that it really opened the door for more pluralistic media in the country and it was the year after that where they entered the category of partly free which is where they remain today.

RFE/RL: Did you find any evidence anywhere that citizens are fighting back against the state taking control of the media?

Walker: Well what we’re really talking about here is the demand side of the press freedom equation, which is critical, and how people can respond to the pressure that’s being applied by their governments. And it’s fair to say that authoritarian governments stay true to form by reducing from this equation independent news and information. So if we look at Russia for example, over time, public space for discussing political issues -- and for the competition of ideas -- has really shrunk dramatically.

So given the hammerlock that these governments have on national television, for example, where most people still get their news, the Internet really appears to offer the most promises for citizens to contest what is essentially the re-imposition of censorship.

RFE/RL: Did Freedom House find any good news about media freedom in the region? Anywhere it’s expanding or being allowed to flourish unencumbered by government interference?

Walker: Well. I think at some level the story would be relating to the Internet. And that is, in some countries you have what could be described as benign neglect, which could be as good as it gets for the time being in a number of states.

So I think the Internet is probably the story in the short term because this is something that really enables the sort of participation -- for those who have access to it -- that isn’t enabled by a media that is more easily controllable by the authorities.

The comparison that’s used today between the media landscape in many of these countries and the Soviet period probably should no longer be the standard.

I think the tendency for many of the governments is to say, 'Well, our countries have their problems in the media, but it’s certainly not [like] the Soviet period.' And I think one of chief distinctions between the contemporary environment and that of pre-1991 is that you have any number of countries – certainly key countries in the region – that are keen to participate in the global economy. They are either eager to join Western, rule-based organizations, or they’re already in them, which -- in a very basic way -- suggests that they should be meeting a far higher standard than the landscape that existed more than a decade and a half ago, which was bereft of any sorts of alternative voices.

Killing Of Journalists On The Rise In Iraq

By Kathleen Ridolfo

Journalists are being increasingly targeted in Iraq (file photo)

June 15, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi journalists have been targeted for kidnappings and assassinations at an alarming rate in recent weeks. Though journalists have been targeted routinely since 2003, attacks and threats by insurgents are on the rise.

At least 18 journalists have been gunned down since January, and 10 relatives of journalists have been killed -- in one case, seven members of one family.

While Western journalists in Iraq often operate with the support of a security team, Iraqi journalists primarily operate on their own, primarily because they work for media outlets unable to float the high costs of a security detail. While journalists who live and work within their communities may also be relatively safe operating in familiar terrain, it is becoming more apparent that the opposite is true.

Warnings Not Heeded

Family members of slain journalists often report that the victim had received threats prior to their killing. Some journalists try to address threats by changing their residence, residing with friends or relatives, or relocating their families outside Iraq.

Sahar Hussein Ali al-Haydari, a correspondent for Aswat Al-Iraq (Voices of Iraq), had received several death threats prior to her June 7 killing in Mosul. In 2006, she was targeted twice for abduction, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). One attempt failed, while she was rescued the second time. She was shot in March 2006, and then in August, gunmen killed her daughter's fiance. In 2005, al-Haydari had moved her family to Damascus due to death threats.

Al-Haydari told the CPJ in a March 22 e-mail that her name was fourth on a "death list" of journalists and police officers compiled by the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq. The group circulated the list around Mosul and posted the list on the door of her home. Gunmen answered her mobile telephone after her death, telling a Mosul police captain, "She went to hell."

"The constant threats and abductions she endured, and her eventual murder, are stark reminders of the sacrifice she made to tell the Iraqi story to the world," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said.

The Ansar Al-Sunnah Army, an insurgent group with ties to the Islamic State of Iraq, claimed responsibility for al-Haydari's killing in a June 11 Internet statement dated June 8. "We had received information that this journalist worked for the Kurdistan media and she was aided by the apostate police force," the Ansar statement said. " We already knew, prior to receiving this information, that her work was aimed at ruining the mujahedin's reputation."

The statement continued: "When she walked into the trap set for her, the mujahedin brothers pounced on her and showered her with a torrent of bullets from their machine guns, killing her instantly. The brothers then took her cell phone and found numbers and pictures in it that belonged to police officers. This assured us that her work was for the benefit of both the police and the apostate [Prime Minister Nuri] al-Maliki government."

Casualties Of War

Al-Fallujah-based journalist Abd al-Rahman al-Isawi was shot dead along with seven of his relatives on May 30. Al-Isawi was killed in his home along with his wife, son, parents, and three other relatives. Al-Isawi worked for the online NINA news agency, and he was also the media representative of the Al-Anbar Salvation Council, a gathering of Sunni Arab tribal leaders from the governorate who have committed to fighting Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

TV reporter Atwar Bahjat was killed in February 2006 (AFP file photo)

Nazar Abd al-Wahid al-Radhi, a correspondent working for RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) was gunned down outside a hotel in Al-Amarah on May 30. He was the second RFI correspondent killed in Iraq in as many months. According to witnesses, armed men in a pickup truck opened fire on al-Radhi and four other journalists as they left a workshop at the hotel. Al-Radhi was the only journalist killed in the attack. Al-Radhi was a well-known journalist in Iraq, and also worked for the Internet news agency Aswat al-Iraq and the daily "Al-Sabah al-Jadid." RFE/RL President Jeff Gedmin said that RFE/RL "mourns his loss and honors his memory."

RFI correspondent Khamail Muhsin Khalaf was abducted in Baghdad on her way home from work on April 3. Her body was found two days later. Following her abduction, an unidentified caller telephoned her family using her mobile phone, but no further communication was made. Khamail had received several threats after joining RFI in 2004, where she reported on social and cultural life in Iraq. She was a highly regarded former Iraqi television journalist and newscaster.

According to media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, at least 182 journalists and media assistants have been killed, and another 77 kidnapped in Iraq since 2003. Of those kidnapped, 23 have been murdered, 40 have been released, and 14 are still being held by their abductors.

The targeting of journalists serves the insurgent cause and its attempt to influence and direct public perceptions of the security situation in Iraq and the work of the Iraqi government toward reining in the insurgency. Should insurgents succeed in their campaign to intimidate journalists into leaving their profession, the loss, in terms of civil-society development will be devastating.

RFE/RL Iraq Correspondent Killed In Baghdad
Radio Free Iraq correspondent Khamail Muhsin Khalaf was found dead in Baghdad on April 5. more
RFE/RL Correspondent Shot Dead In Iraq
Abd al-Wahid al-Radhi, was shot and killed in the southern Iraqi city of Al-Amarah on May 30. more

Couple Convicted In Swiss Internet-Terrorism Trial

By Breffni O'Rourke
June 21, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Switzerland's first Internet-terrorism trial has ended with a federal court in the southern Swiss city of Bellinzona convicting a Muslim man and a woman for running Internet websites supporting terrorism.

The couple was found guilty of running websites to support Al-Qaeda linked groups and publicly incite criminal acts and racial violence.

Moez Garsallaoui and his wife, Malika al-Aroud, had pleaded innocent to the charges, which relate to content that showed how to make bombs and poison gas, and how to prepare terrorist attacks. They were also accused of providing a discussion forum that was used by terrorist groups to exchange information.

"If you shut one site down, it will simply move to another server and be there in no time at all." -- terrorism expert Peter Lehr.

The court sentenced Garsallaoui to six months in prison, plus a further suspended sentence of 18 months. Al-Aroud received a six month suspended prison sentence. The sentences were considerably lighter than those demanded by the prosecution.

Media reports say al-Aroud is the widow of a suicide bomber who helped kill Afghan mujahedin leader Ahmad Shah Mas'ud in 2001. She is a Belgian of Moroccan extraction, and is now married to Garsallaoui, who is Tunisian.


Terrorism expert Peter Lehr, of the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence in Scotland, says terrorists have become adept at using the new technology to get their message across, using website operators as "middlemen."

"They are basically acting as go-betweens for people interested in involvement [in terror], connecting them with others who have not only ideas, but also expertise," Lehr says.

During the two-day trial, the prosecution showed a video of extremists beheading an American man -- one of a number of graphic executions which the prosecution says were carried on the websites.

However, when questioned, Garsallaoui denied any knowledge of the video, saying it could have been posted to the site by an anonymous visitor. But he defended his right to show such material, saying it is part of free expression.

Hard To Control

Swiss authorities closed down all the couple's websites in 2005. But analyst Lehr says controlling the abuse of the Internet is a difficult task.

"The problem, however, is how can you shut down these sites," Lehr says. "You know very well that if you shut one site down, it will simply move to another server and be there in no time at all. So for Switzerland it's rather difficult -- it needs concerted action by all the nations of the world to monitor these things. And this of course brings up questions of where state authority will stop."

Lehr points out the controversy surrounding a plan to grant powers to the German police to clandestinely access the hard drives of computer users to check for the presence of criminal material.

"That's the other side of the coin," he says. "If you want security, you have to give up some rights, some individual freedoms."