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THREE JOURNALISTS KILLED; NEW RESTRICTIONS ON BOMB COVERAGE

Three more journalists were killed in Iraq in the past week, bringing the number of media workers killed in the country to 34 in 2007 - and indicating another record year for media deaths, reports the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

According to Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontieres, RSF), Ali Khalil of the daily "al-Zarnan" newspaper was driving with his wife on Sunday just south of Baghdad, when he was ambushed by armed men and bundled into one of their cars. His wife was left unharmed. Police found Khalil's body an hour later, riddled with bullets. RSF believes he was most likely targeted for writing an article that quoted government officials calling on the authorities to physically eliminate armed groups.

Gunmen also killed two ABC News employees in Baghdad on 17 May, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), IFJ, RSF and ABC News. CPJ reports that Iraqis account for four in five of the media deaths in the country.

Cameraman Alaa Uldeen Aziz and soundman Saif Laith Yousuf were on the way home from the Baghdad bureau of the American news corporation when they were ambushed by two cars of unidentified gunmen and forced out of their car, ABC News says. They were confirmed dead the next day.

"They are really our eyes and ears in Iraq," ABC Baghdad correspondent Terry McCarthy says of the contribution Aziz and Yousuf made to ABC News. "Many places in Baghdad are just too dangerous for foreigners to go now, so we have Iraqi camera crews who very bravely go out. Without them we are blind, we cannot see what's going on."

Meanwhile, CPJ and the International News Safety Institute (INSI) criticised the Iraqi government's recent decision to restrict news coverage of bombings. According to INSI, Iraq's Interior Ministry said that besides protecting media from the possibility of a second blast, the restriction would preserve the victims' dignity, avoid giving terrorists information about the results of their attacks, and prevent media from tampering with evidence at the site.

Critics, however, say the reasons are "spurious," and believe the ban is intended to limit coverage to information that is filtered through the Interior Ministry. "Whatever the reason for this latest restriction of news coverage in Iraq, it is clear it has nothing to do with the safety of journalists," says INSI director Rodney Pinder. "The Iraqi government has a duty to protect and defend journalists, who form the cornerstone of any democracy, and this action does not address that issue in a serious way."

Visit these links:
- IFJ: http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?Index=4939&Language=EN
- RSF on Khalil: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=22234
- RSF on ABC News journalists: http://tinyurl.com/2kppec
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/3cwbgo
- ABC News: http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=3187521&page=1
- INSI: http://www.newssafety.com/stories/insi/iraq180507.htm
- CPJ's open letter to Iraqi PM to reverse bomb coverage restriction: http://www.cpj.org/protests/07ltrs/mideast/iraq21may07pl.html
(22 May 2007)

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