Media legislation

Iraq still lacks a law on the right to access information and even if it were to pass one of the drafts currently being discussed in the parliament, there would be a need for further legal reforms to enable media practitioners to hold authorities accountable. Specifically, as pointed out by the Iraqi Civil Center for Studies and Legal Reform in a 2015 study, state employees are still strictly forbidden from providing any information without the approval of their superiors according to Law 14, 1991.

Under the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) rule the 2008 Kurdistan Press Law applies. The law has some sort of effect such as abolishing imprisonment as a penalty, rather placing heavy fines on those charged. It also offers protection to journalist’s right to obtain „information of importance to citizens and with relevance to the public interest.”

In 2013, a law on the right to access information has instead been passed in Iraqi Kurdistan. All Kurdish parties reached a subsequent consensus on a crucial amendment that specified some exceptions to the law, according to which state institutions have the right to withhold sensitive security and military information and citizens are entitled to refuse the provision of certain information on privacy grounds. Some legitimate concerns have been raised with regards to the limits that this amendment can cause to the transparency of KRG institutions. According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) there is still room for improvement, especially for what concerns testing the harm of the aforementioned exceptions, introducing a mechanism that would allow to consult third parties, enforcing sanctions against the obstruction of access to information and protection for good-faith disclosures. The IFJ and CLD have also proposed the creation of a monitoring commission for information appeals rather than leaving this function to the existing KRG Human Rights Commission. In practice, there is still also a significant gap between the progressive legal framework and the willingness of KRG officials to engage constructively with the media.

In the rest of Iraq, a Journalist Protection Law was approved in 2012, but is regarded ineffective due to its vague wording, its narrow definition of who a journalist is, and its failure to amend previous laws which contradict the current laws. When it was in draft form, the bill was subject to criticism for applying only to IJS members. Nonetheless, when the law was finally approved, the earlier reference to the IJS was cancelled, so that a journalist is now qualified as “any individual practicing a full-time journalism job.” But, in this way, citizen journalists, bloggers and part-time journalists remain excluded. The law stipulates forms of compensation for death and injury, while protecting journalists from being arrested or interrogated without a warrant and without alerting their employers; however, benefits and eligibility for compensation for work injuries apply only to IJS members and there is no mention of any entitlement to legal aid.

According to Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) editor in Iraq, Hazim al-Sharaa, there are still evident loopholes in the interpretation of certain vaguely phrased passages: The law does not define the “restricted” data and statistics that journalists are not entitled to obtain, just like it does not specify which other laws the journalists are obliged to respect when publishing information. The latter is a particularly controversial passage bearing in mind that some ancien régime laws are still in place, such as the 1969 Penal Code, which criminalizes defamation and the 1968 Publications Law, according to which journalists may be imprisoned for up to seven years for insulting the government. Without amending these old laws, the positive impact remains almost unnoticeable. Quite predictably, the pro-government Iraqi Journalists’ Syndicate has endorsed this legal reform, whereas other local and international organisations have called for its repeal.