President Barzani to Journalists: We Share Common Goals, Will Address Corruption | |
Salahaddin, Kurdistan Region, Iraq ( Following the passage of a new law governing journalism in the Kurdistan Parliament last week, Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani held a broad meeting with news editors and representatives of over one hundred news and press outlets in the Kurdistan Region. During the meeting the President expressed his optimism that the journalistic community could come to play a vital role in the Region's political process under the new law, laid out a plan to address allegations of corruption, and commented on recent tensions with Baghdad.

The new law, which was designed to guarantee more freedoms for journalists, has abolished jail terms for offences such as defamation. It also abolished heavy fines and the closure of publications, which were called for under the laws the Kurdistan Region inherited from the Saddam Hussein era.

At the start of the meeting with the journalistic community, President Barzani expressed his desire to engage with the local media to discuss the challenges ahead and how the new law could provide more opportunities for the work of journalists throughout the Kurdistan Region.

“We [the government and journalistic community] need to reach some common ground. We need a better understanding of each other. I feel there is a disconnect between you and the leadership and this disconnect is rising,” the President said. The President expressed his concern that the detractors of the Kurdistan Region could exploit this rift to try and undermine the impressive political and economic gains made in the area
since Saddam's ouster.

The President was clear: “I am totally in favour of freedom of press...But this does not mean that the press can violate the rights of others.” He went on to say that the media has a vital role to play in the region's political process. It must criticize, but the criticisms have to be specific and backed up by evidence. In order to serve the people and provide them with the access they need to hold the government and its officials accountable, news outlets in the Kurdistan Region must obtain a higher level of compliance with international journalistic ethics so that the people can rely on them for accurate, balanced information.

In the meeting, President Barzani also touched on the issue of corruption. Corruption is a frequent topic in the local media and the President considers it a very important priority to address during his tenure. “I am not saying there is no corruption. But when you accuse someone, you must provide evidence and be very specific” said the president. “We are about to establish a fact-finding committee to collect information and investigate claims of corruption. We will make sure this committee is fair and neutral and the members of this committee need to have a clean record. People will be able to register claims and their complaints with this committee for full and just investigation."

Other issues of immediate import to the Kurdistan Region and its journalistic community were also addressed. "We have a number of challenges ahead of us: implementation of Article 140, the tension between the Kurdistan Region and the federal government on disputed areas, and a number of outstanding laws in the Iraqi parliament. As Kurds, we
have displayed the most flexibility when negotiating for our rights; agreed to the new law for provincial elections law. We have all along demanded our rights through constitutional and legal means. Despite this, there is a view in Baghdad that the Kurds already enjoy too many rights and they should be stripped of these rights. If we are not united at home,
we could lose what we already have” the President said.

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