Trade unions

As mentioned earlier, the Iraqi Journalists' Syndicate (IJS) is more of a relic of the Baathist regime rather than an institution to defend journalists' rights. Under Saddam, the IJS even crowned his elder son Uday Hussein Journalist of the Century.

In recent times, the trade union has been hit by countless scandals, the most blatant being the offer of lands in exchange for favourable coverage of the government. The episode was the focus of a New York Times piece (January 28, 2009), which reported of a meeting occurred between PM Maliki and the IJS, a month before the provincial elections. In this gathering, reporters were promised plots of land almost for free in exchange for articles highlighting "progress and reconstruction." The problem is that, legally speaking, the text of 1969 Syndicate Law actually rules that the union should “strive to build housing and provide land for the members” (clause 13). Theoretically, all professional syndicates are entitled to these privileges but, practically, this case was unprecedented and, for a while, the IJS remained the only beneficiary of the law. The trade union is said to be particularly influential on the upper echelons, as confirmed by former IMN general director Mohammad Shaboot in 2013, who told BBC Action of a government-funded budget of approximately $7m per year. Furthermore, the current president of the union, Mu'ayyid al-Lami, has been accused by the editor-in-chief of the independent daily Al-Mada, Fakhri Karim, of having been gifted more than $3m by the prime minister to back his candidacy for the third term in 2014.

The IJS shortcomings are not limited to its cosy relationship with the political elites, it is also completely incapable of protecting media professionals. According to an in-depth report conducted by Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ)’s Mustafa Sa'adun in collaboration with the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO) in 2016, among 20 Iraqi war correspondents who were assigned to cover the war against IS none of them had signed a work contract nor did they receive any training on war reporting. This violates Article 13 of the Law on the Protection of Journalists (2011) which provides that “local and foreign media entities working in the republic of Iraq must commit to sign contracts with journalists working for them according to a form set by the Syndicate or through its branch in the region. A copy of the contract is to be submitted to the Syndicate.” Asked about the reasons of its negligence, the IJS blamed the Iraqi media entities for not committing to sign the contracts, while claiming to retain tens of signed contracts without showing any of them. JFO director Ziyad al-Ajili has compared the hiring of journalists to “masked extortion” because of the lack of IJS-endorsed legal frameworks and unified contract formats. The ARIJ investigation, which was also published in the Pan Arab daily Al-Hayat, has also casted significant doubts on the IJS trainings on war reporting, given that the syndicate refused to share a list of the supposed trainees and some major media outlets denied receiving any training.

The Iraqi journalists have decided to react and organize themselves in an alternative body. In spite of the threats he received, Al-Mada Media Network manager Adnan Hussein is now the president of a new syndicate, the National Union of Iraqi Journalists (NUIJ). This new institution has vowed to fight to amend the 1969 law on syndicates that forbids the formation of more than one union. However, the parliament has failed to vote to change the text until now. Obviously, IJS's Mu'ayyid Lami has already resorted to the old law to question the NUIJ's right to exist, accusing it of igniting divisions and benefiting "foreign agendas." On the contrary, Mazen al-Zaidi, a newly elected NUIJ member, has told Al-Monitor in a 2013 interview that the IJS' legitimacy to represent journalists on its own is totally questionable on the grounds that many of its more than 10,000 members are not journalists at all, but they have been appointed to ensure Lami's re-election. The IJS has indeed kept alive many of the dissolved Ministry of Information’s practices such as granting memberships to government spokespersons: For example, Al-Maliki's Communication Advisor Ali al-Musawi, has joined the syndicate after obtaining his office with the cabinet.