President Barzani welcomes CPJ report, reiterates support for free press | |
Salahaddin, Kurdistan Region– Iraq ( - Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani yesterday met a delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based NGO, and said that he welcomed their recent fact-finding report about journalism in the Kurdistan Region.

President Barzani and his Chief of Staff Dr Fuad Hussein met Michael Massing, a Director of the CPJ; Joel Campagna Middle East and North Africa Senior Programme Coordinator; and Robert Mahoney, Deputy Director.

The President thanked the CPJ for its report and said that the Kurdistan Region does not claim to be without shortcomings and needs to go through many stages in the evolution towards complete freedom. He said, “The Kurdistan Region has made significant steps to achieving greater liberties. Our long struggle in the past was for freedom not just for journalists but for all the citizens of Kurdistan. I think that the press is free now, and we need a law to regulate the profession of journalism.”

The recent report by the CPJ was produced after a two-week fact-finding mission last year to Erbil and Suleimaniah where they met dozens of journalists. The delegation told President Barzani about the report’s recommendations, one of which is to suspend laws or articles that criminalise defamation, insult and slander. The President agreed with the CPJ, noting that in December he referred a new media law back to parliament for reconsideration because of some of the legal penalties and restrictions included in it. He said, “Referring back the recent bill shows that we want freedom of the press. We don’t want to put restrictions on journalists, and at the same time journalists also have to be committed to their profession’s principles and to proper ethics. Don’t forget the environment in which we live, and the culture of persecution of the former Ba’ath regime that unfortunately has left its mark on Kurdish society.

“I think the bill which the Kurdistan National Assembly is currently discussing should set clear guidelines for journalists. Professional journalism is more than just being able to write. We regard journalism as a respected profession, journalists must respect it too and not allow themselves to be used as a tool by others or resort to defamation to serve a particular agenda. Journalists are free to criticize, but their criticism should be constructive and not defamatory.”

The President and the CPJ also discussed other countries’ press regulations and sanctions. The CPJ confirmed that in most jurisdictions journalists could face sanctions or lawsuits under civil law. The NGO representatives said that although they believe the Kurdistan Region needs to make improvements, it has taken some positive steps towards greater freedoms.

President Barzani added, “Personally I believe that the press should be completely free, but journalists should be understanding of the situation in which we live. Compared to the US or Europe we have a long way to go; but compared to this region and especially compared with where we were 10 years ago, we have made a lot of progress and are doing much better.”