No Photos Allowed After Iraqi Blasts
05-16-2007, 06:40 AM
No Photos Allowed After Iraqi Blasts
By KIM GAMEL
BAGHDAD (AP) Police fired warning shots in the air at the scene of a double bombing Tuesday, enforcing an order banning news photographers and TV camera operators from filming the aftermath of deadly bombings.
The Iraqi government said it decided last weekend to keep photographers and camera crews away from blast sites to prevent them from damaging forensic evidence. Media groups feared the order was aimed at preventing scenes of horrific carnage from being broadcast around the world.
The ban got its first test Tuesday, when a pair of bombs hidden in plastic bags exploded in two shops selling CDs and cigarettes in Tayaran Square in central Baghdad. Police said at least seven people were killed and 17 wounded.
News photographers and cameraman rushed to the scene only to be turned away by Iraqi police, who fired warning shots in the air to disperse the crowds.
Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf defended the decision and said it would only last for an hour after the explosion.
He said the move was not designed to curtail press freedom but to protect evidence and the privacy of the wounded. He also said the government wanted to keep insurgents from filming the scene for use in propaganda videos.
"I would like to say that this is not a total ban. It is a short ban because after one hour from the explosion, journalists will have the freedom to do their work," he added, saying the ban was nationwide and would include the state-run TV station Iraqiya.
Iraqi and U.S. authorities have frequently complained that the publicity surrounding car bombings and suicide attacks is jeopardizing their efforts to stop the violence, which has proven unrelenting as Sunni insurgents adopt new tactics to evade stepped-up security measures.
Reporters Without Borders expressed concern about the decision, saying it "feared that growing restrictions on the media could end in a total news blackout."
The international advocacy group stressed the importance of the images in providing an accurate assessment of the toll the violence is taking on Iraqi lives as well as the security situation in the capital, where movement is severely limited.
"When the streets become impassable and the authorities provide no information about the attacks in real time, the role of the reporter becomes essential. Coverage of these attacks allows people to evaluate the security risk and to avoid dangerous areas," it said.
Shihab al-Tamimi, the head of the Iraqi Journalists Union, said he understood the Interior Ministry's concerns.
"But at the same time, the security forces should give more understanding to the work of journalists. The journalists have a job to do and they should be able to do it if it does not break a law. For example, if a photographer is after a picture at the explosion site, that does not make him a propagandist for insurgents," al-Tamimi said.
Iraqi authorities often have been criticized for imposing media restrictions since the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003.
In August 2004, the government closed the Baghdad news office of Al-Jazeera television, accusing the station of inciting violence. The office is still closed but the station operates in the Kurdish-ruled area of the north.
Reporters Without Borders also noted that the Iraqi parliament voted May 9 to take legal action against Al-Jazeera over perceived insults against top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
In December 2006, parliament also briefly banned journalists from covering its sessions.
Earlier this month, Freedom House, a nonprofit organization that describes itself as a "clear voice for democracy and freedom around the world," cited the Iraqi government for retaining repressive laws from Saddam's era and for the detentions of journalists without charge.
~ Veritas Vos Liberabit ~
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