- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 12, 2009

DANGEROUS DEADLINE

The Iraqi ambassador argues that journalism in his country — still young, raucous, irresponsible and often biased — will mature and become the keystone to a strong Middle East democracy.

“The hope I have for the Iraqi media is the same that I have for the country itself: maturity,” Ambassador Samir Sumaida’ie wrote in an article posted on the Web site of Layalina Productions (www.layalina.tv).

“The end of the dictatorship left a vacuum, in which individuals are grabbing what they can of power and influence,” he wrote, referring to Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader executed in 2006.

“The media reflects this turmoil. The essential ingredients are ensuring that freedom of expression continues to be exercised as an ingrained right and that these rights are exercised with responsibility.”



Mr. Sumaida’ie, ambassador in Washington since April 2006, referred to the infamous Baghdad press conference during which an Iraqi reporter threw his shoes at President Bush last year, as an example of the irreverence of the Iraqi press.

Muntadhar al-Zeidi of Al-Baghdadiya, who was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison, became a celebrity in some Iraqi circles and much of the Arab world for defying the United States.

“Despite the criticisms that his arrest received, it is important to note that these events would have been unthinkable under the previous regime,” Mr. Sumaida’ie wrote.

He noted that many newspapers or radio stations affiliated with various political or religious factions are accused of “fueling and exacerbating sectarian divisions” through biased reporting.

“However, media reflects the reality in which it finds itself. Where there is polarization, the media will be polarized,” he wrote. “Nonetheless, reliable media outlets will gain stature and public trust over time.”

Mr. Sumaida’ie added that Iraq still remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, with 168 killed since 2003.

“Although violence definitely hinders the functioning of a free press, journalists in Iraq have not stopped publishing and pushing the boundaries,” he said.

“One of the biggest successes of Iraqi media is its sheer resiliency and vitality.”

AMBASSADOR, ‘GO HOME’

The military-backed government of Madagascar is tired of U.S. Ambassador Niels Marquardt criticizing the regime that took power in March and calling for a restoration of democracy.

Prime Minister Roindefo Monja told reporters in the capital, Antananarivo, on Monday that Mr. Marquardt should go home, if he is unhappy on the African island-nation off the coast of Mozambique.

“It surprises me that before the crisis, he said Americans were going to quit Madagascar. Three months later, he is still here. Nobody is forcing him to stay,” Mr. Monja said.

“Those who are not happy can leave. The Malagasy people are sovereign.”

After months of political unrest, the government of President Marc Ravalomanana fell to Andry Rajoelina, an opposition leader backed by the military.

The United States and the International Monetary Fund froze foreign aid to Madagascar, while the African Union and the European Union criticized the overthrow of Mr. Ravalomanana.

Mr. Monja criticized Mr. Marquardt for urging reconciliation talks in an interview with the Voice of America.

“It is only him who forces the hands of the Malagasy people to go again for this dialogue with Marc Ravalomanana,” he said. “What we need here is a dialogue between the Malagasy itself.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected] washingtontimes.com.

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