Published on Saturday, December 3, 2005 by Agence France Presse
Iraqi Journalists Condemn US Military Media Tactics
Journalists in Iraq say they are shocked by revelations that the US military paid Iraqi newspapers and journalists to run positive articles about US activities in Iraq.
"It is a scandal that the US administration would use methods like these which contradict all principles of the profession and seek to defraud public opinion," well-known Iraqi journalist and political analyst Ahmed Sabri said.
"A newspaper should reflect the reality on the ground, not sponsored information aimed at improving the image of the The United States, which in reality has failed in Iraq," Sabri added.
The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday that dozens of stories written by "information operations" soldiers were secretly placed with media outlets in Iraq through a defense contractor to mask the military's involvement.
The report relied largely on leaks from members of the military establishment who say they fear that US attempts to influence the Iraqi media may actually be subverting a free press.
As recently as Tuesday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pointed to the free press in Iraq as evidence of the progress made in Iraq.
Knight-Ridder newspapers on Thursday reported that the military also was paying Iraqi reporters up to 200 dollars a month to write sympathetic stories.
It said the payments were made to members of the Baghdad Press Club, an organization set up by US army officers more than a year ago.
An Iraqi female journalist, who preferred to remain anonymous, told AFP about working for the Baghdad Press Club, which is headquartered is at the airport, for three months before quitting.
"We were called to go out with them on various educational, reconstruction, health or aid projects and asked to write positive articles about them in exchange for 50 dollars," she recalled.
"After three months, I left. The whole thing was ridiculous and against the ethics of journalists," she said, recalling a US-sponsored trip to Sadr City where people called her a traitor and threw rocks at her.
Another Iraqi journalist in Baghdad who also preferred not to be named was more philosophical about the entire affair.
"It's true that it's fraud, but a professional journalist shouldn't fall into such a trap," he said.
Major General Rick Lynch, the US military spokesman in Iraq, cast the matter as an effort to counter lies spread by Al-Qaeda.
"We do empower our operational commanders with the ability to inform the Iraqi public, but everything we do is based on fact not based on fiction," he said.
Military officials would not comment on whether newspapers and journalists were paid to plant the articles.
Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson, head of the US military's press department in Baghdad, cited operational secrecy in withholding information about the program.
Johnson explained that the Iraqi press has traveled a long hard road from total control under ousted president Saddam Hussein to the current period characterized by a lethal insurgency.
"There's outright intimidation and many murders and other ways of manipulating the press, so it was felt operationally that it was necessary to make sure the facts were out," he said.
The White House announced on Wednesday that it was "very concerned" about the report.