Other Campuses: Free the Iraqi press

By Iowa State Daily

(U-WIRE) AMES, Iowa – It is not surprising to hear our military is interested in keeping the news in Iraq positive. But if recent allegations prove to be true, the lengths to which our military is willing to go to ensure the success of democracy in Iraq should embarrass us.

The allegations first surfaced in the LA Times, which reported the military hired a consulting firm to help it place stories written by the U.S. military into Iraqi newspapers, as if Iraqis wrote them. The U.S. Command in Baghdad admitted Friday to paying Iraqi newspapers to run positive stories about the military efforts there.

The extent and exact nature of the “pay-to-print” program is currently under investigation by the Pentagon. But it is both disappointing and counter-productive for our military to undermine the free press while at the same time promoting democracy.

A media controlled by the government should be a legacy of the Hussein regime, not U.S. forces. Just when we should be promoting a “dialogue of ideas” in a fledgling democracy, we are taking steps backward, seeking to control public dialogue in a country that has not seen free debate in decades.

A free society, to be free, must be able to trust their independent media. The founders of this country knew this and made the protection of free speech the first of many amendments to the Constitution. We cannot expect the development of a legitimate government in Iraq without the presence of a legitimate press.

It is also vital for the safety of our soldiers, and the success of our efforts there, that the Iraqi people trust our military. Publishing positive stories about the U.S. military in newspapers under the guise of independent journalism is hardly a convincing way to say, “Trust me!” to the public. Creating distrust for the standard media, along with distrust for the United States, creates more skeptics who are now willing to listen to extremists as their sources for “truth” about the situation in Iraq.

The free press in Iraq had the potential to be one of our greatest assets in our struggle there, offering unbiased accounts of how our forces differ from the insurgents we fight. Iraqis should have been able to realize positive developments as positive developments, not because we told them, but because they read about it in their own media.

Instead, we have wasted that potential. How many Iraqis will believe positive reports about our forces now, even if they happen to be true?

The allegations came out the same day President Bush outlined his strategy for victory in Iraq, which ironically included an effort to, “support a free, independent and responsible Iraqi media.” This is still a noble goal for our forces in Iraq.

We should begin to seriously pursue it if we wish for a successful outcome there.

Staff Editorial