Syndicate in Karbala: Journalists kept waiting, while local officials given membership

Reporter Hussein Al-Shamri said that he filed an application to join the Syndicate of Iraqi Journalists three times and did not receive a reply. In fact, every time he inquires about a submitted package the Syndicate tells him that it has been lost.
Iraq journalists

KARBALA, Aug 17, 2009 (MENASSAT) - “There are no specific standards to accept journalists into the syndicate,” said al-Shamri, a reporter with the satellite channel al-Fourat (Euphrates), describing the problems journalists in the Iraqi city of Karbala are facing.

Al-Shamri is not alone when it comes to being ignored by the syndicate. Many journalists' applications in Karbala have been ignored, “and are working without an institution to protect them,” says reporter of al-Bilad radio, Laith Ali, adding that he has been “waiting without any response for three months to have a syndicate card” although his name has been entered into its system.

“There is no clear mechanism for the work of the Iraqi Journalists’ Syndicate concerning membership applications,” said Ali.

The syndicate has a branch in Karbala that is responsible for approving the applications and sending a confirmation to the head office of the syndicate in Baghdad.

Ghanem Abdel Zahra, correspondent of the National Iraqi News Agency (NINA), says, “Here is the problem: the syndicate receives the application and tells the journalist to wait. The waiting period could last for years, and during this time the journalist is not informed with what happened with the application and which party is handling it.”

“Many journalists doubt the syndicate is even looking into the applications. I heard many journalists say the syndicate is only accepting people by nepotism, and not for their professionalism.”

Most get the same answer: “Wait”

Khadir al-Nasrawi, reporter of al-Ahed radio, says that he has filed numerous applications at different times, but it has been of no use. “The Karbala branch asked the journalists to present their applications to the main office in Baghdad” and that’s what he did, but he still doesn’t know what happened to the file. “Could it be that the applications were lost?”

Even if some of the articles required for the application were not up to the standards that the syndicate demands, a lot of the journalists who applied to the syndicate work for a variety of media institutions and have published their work in more than one outlet. “But until now they are facing problems in joining the syndicate,” says journalist Mohammad al-Sawaf of al-Naba electronic network.

He added, “I think some non-journalists were accepted into the syndicate, while some journalists who deserve the title by excellence are still not members.”

Abdel Zahra said that many former members of the local government in Karbala received membership cards from the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate. “They are administrative employees, even though they write some articles in local newspapers every now and then.”

Ghanem says this is a result of the “nepotism and unprofessional standards when it comes to accepting journalists into the syndicate.”
Ali Rouyeh, from the quarterly newspaper al-Naba, said, “There is a big difference between a journalist practicing his job in the streets and a person who writes onr article per month. Can we consider an official in the local government a journalist, while he sits behind his elegant desk all day long, and is only related to journalism by writing a monthly article of 300 words?”

Seeking Guarantees

Although a draft-law to protect journalists was presented to the Iraqi Parliament at the end of July, it is still awaiting approval. “Joining the syndicate even before approving the law, gives them some of their rights. The Prime Ministry offers financial grants for the journalists sometimes, and only members of the syndicate are covered,” Majed al-Khaqani, editor-in-chief of al-Taf newspaper issued in Karabala, said.

He explained that the living conditions of most Iraqi journalists in general are lower than the average person; and this is why they give such importance to the grants.

The draft law attempts protect journalists from attacks while in the field and provides them and their families with government grants if they are killed or injured while doing their job, according to the Head of the Syndicate in Karbala, Neemat Abdul Kareem.

The proposal, however, was criticized by international and local media-rights groups as well as Iraqi journalists. A Baghdad based media watchdog, said it was a tool for the government to restrict press freedoms, while the International Press Institute says the draft law contains worrying provisions that are open to negative interpretation in courts, posing a threat to reporters.

Applications hinder efforts

Abdul Kareem told MENASSAT “the Karbala branch is making great efforts to complete the membership of all journalists in Karbala to the syndicate, but reiterated that “the number of applications is very high; over  5,000 applications are currently pending at the main office in Baghdad.”

And the high numbers of applications require a thorough examination, he said, “before accepting any member.” He thinks that some of the applications are false and that the applicants don’t work in the press “which results in the delay in approving the applications of many real journalists.”

It is worth noting that more than 200 Iraqi journalists and media workers have been killed since 2003 in random acts of violence, either while reporting in dangerous places, or being targeted directly. Their families never received compensation for their deaths, as a law for journalists’ rights was nonexistent, causing their families additional suffering, especially when some were the sole source of their income.