photo: Eddy van Wessel


Friday, January 27, 2012

Don't shoot the messenger

Democracy is not easy. If we did not know it yet, we could learn it from the situation in Iraq. The Provincial Council of Kirkuk is doing that the hard way.

Members of the Kirkuk Provincial Council (KPC) do not attend the councils meetings, so the independent website KirkukNow reported recently. Various council members reported on the behaviour of their colleagues, many on the record. The complaint was that they were busy with other jobs, and for that reason were absent from the meetings. Yet the members get paid for their democratic function.

,,A KPC member who talked on the condition of anonymity said, “Over 13 members of the KPC are involved in corruption, and since some of them do not attend the KPC office, others have second jobs.”'', reported. All members implicated in the case were asked to comment, and some said they did not take a salary so nothing was amiss.

But, as KirkukNow writes: According to the Iraqi constitution, no member of parliament, or provincial council, or holders of any high posts can take the second job, especially in governmental offices.

The story was picked-up by other media in Iraq and the matter was taken seriously. How can council members make decisions for a town when they are not present at the meetings where those decisions are taken? And how can people put trust in politicians who are only on their post for the money? Or if they do not abide the rules? Questions that make sense in a country that is striving to be a democracy.

The hype lead to a nasty phonecall to the reporter. If the news was not taken off the site in 24 hours, he would be killed, so he was told. The reporter, who is almost sure that one of the council members is behind the call, reported the issue to the court and went on his way. continued covering the news. For instance in the way of the comment of the chairman of the council.

Hasan Torhan said some news sites had published unfounded and fabricated news, calling on them to investigate and verity stories before publication. “Some news sites publish baseless and fabricated news to tarnish the reputation of the KPC and its members,” saying that the KPC will respond to allegations, according to the website of the Council. “The doors of the KPC and its members are open to the media.”

Yet the information came from council members, it had not been fabricated. And it was checked by the reporter, who asked those mentioned to react. And it lead to a dead threat - because the allegations are true and someone was probably afraid of loosing status and income.Yet the council chairman did not care about anything else but washing his hands - in stead of looking at the problem and solving it. In stead he shoots the messenger of the bad news - or more correct, does not protest when others threaten to do so.

Dead threats, other threats, someone waiting for you in a quiet street, beatings - the press in Iraq is struggling on its way to playing its proper role in a society that is also struggling to find its proper road to democracy. But the struggle is not going in the right direction, as Reporters sans Frontieres showed in their recent report on the Middle East,  the 'Press Freedom Index 2011-2012, Arab uprisings and their impact on the press freedom index'.

,,After rising in the index for several years in a row, Iraq fell 22 places this year, from 130th to 152nd (almost to the position it held in 2008, when it was 158th). There were various reasons. The first was an increase in murders of journalists. Hadi Al-Mahdi’s murder on 8 September marked a clear turning point. Another reason was the fact that journalists are very often the target of violence by the security forces, whether at demonstrations in Tahrir Square in Baghdad, or in Iraqi Kurdistan, a region that had for many years offered a refuge for journalists.''

Bad news for my colleagues in Iraq. And at the same time, the status of journalists in this country is declining. Young people do not choose to be journalist because they like the job and think they will do something useful in their society, they choose it solely because there is nothing better to choose for. They did not do well enough in high school to get enough points to be allowed to study something considered more worthwhile in this society, like medicine or engineering. So they become journalists.

Iraq needs people who work for the good cause. Politicians who abide the rules that put them in their position. Journalists who report because they want to inform and empower the Iraqi people to get politicians to work for them, in stead of for themselves. A difficult job in Iraq, as the KirkukNow reporter found. But also a very important one, for which future generations living in a better place surely will be thankful.

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