The Blog

A Bad Move in Baghdad

Simon Haselock has been appointed the new media commissioner in Iraq. It's bad news for the free Iraqi media.

12:00 PM, Aug 20, 2003 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Further, Albanian journalism in Kosovo is not so economically disadvantaged. Albanians have a more prosperous diaspora that has provided significant economic assets to independent media. Kosovar journalists do not go begging the foreign agencies for subsidies.

But Kosovo also came up against the obsession of the foreign powers with the establishment of new media that would eschew any nationalist vocabulary and thus, allegedly, promote reconciliation between Albanians and Serbs--a will o' the wisp if there ever was one.

In both cases, Simon Haselock's job was, put bluntly, to cram these policies down the throats of local journalists, who remained resentful and reduced in their professional effectiveness in Sarajevo, and recalcitrant and rhetorically excitable (more about the foreigners than the Serbs) in Kosovo.

To repeat these failed experiments in Iraq is a recipe for failure. In Iraq, by contrast to the Balkan countries, we in the coalition countries have a larger responsibility--not only to the local inhabitants, but to our troops who gave their lives for the liberation of the Iraqi people. Iraqi media deserves a chance to function freely and entrepreneurially, in the spirit of our own First Amendment, with expression curbed only in cases of direct incitement of violence and libel. The first problem can be handled by good public security, and the second by the courts. In such a context, there is no need for special commissions, elaborate training, or worst of all, state-run media. All of this was tried in Britain, and the BBC is now known as the Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation. Iraq doesn't need another such institution.

Let Iraqi journalism flourish, with as many newspapers and broadcasters as can survive in the marketplace, and let Iraq journalists learn as they work.

Stephen Schwartz went to the Balkans after Dayton as a representative of the International Federation of Journalists, and remains an adviser to the Kosovo Association of Journalists. He published two books in 2000 dealing with media issues in the Balkans: "A Dishonest 20th Century Comedy," printed in Sarajevo, and "Kosovo: Background to a War," which appeared in Britain. He is also the author of "The Two Faces of Islam."