In Iraq, Free Press (Kinda, Sorta, Maybe)

Everyone in Kurdistan is proud of saying that there's no censorship here, that their media is free and independent. But poking around the edges of some small-time magazines in Erbil, I discovered something strange. From the smallest fry to the biggest fish, almost all media in Kurdistan is government-funded.Iraq.newspaper.jpgWhen I asked Karwan Abdula, editor of Caravan literary magazine (and a former communist) if government funding shaped his mag's editorial ethos, he said no, of course not. But then, he added, we would never think of publishing anything critical of Kurdistan's two major parties.I ran this past the media bigwig in Erbil, Minister of Culture Sami Shorish, and he explained that while there are no laws restricting free speech, there is one important law restricting speech that isn't free and never should be. "We provide freedom to media, provided the media doesn't act in a slanderous way."And would criticizing the ruling parties entail slander? I asked Abdula.Yes, he said.In all of Kurdistan there is only one privately-financed newspaper, Hawlati, which has been an on-again off-again affair. Its editors come and go with shocking frequency. Sources tell me that there's a lot of pressure on Hawlati on account of its independence. I'm trying to get in touch with the current editor to get his take.To the Kurds, it seems, censorship ain't censorship as long as you call it something else.-- David Axe

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