“All Successful Democracies Need Freedom of Speech”: American Efforts to Create a Vibrant Free Press in Iraq and Afghanistan

By David Rohde

A paper by David Rohde, spring 2005 fellow, examines American efforts to create a vibrant free press in Iraq and Afghanistan. A $200 million project in Iraq was the largest attempt ever by the United States, or any country, to help create independent media in another nation. Run by the Pentagon, it was a near total failure in its first year, with Iraqi journalists, American trainers and U.S. government officials assailing it as wasteful, amateurish and counter‐productive. A far smaller $15 million State Department effort in Afghanistan, by comparison, appears to have been more effective. In both countries, many local journalists have performed well, particularly when given proper resources and training. But in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as around the world, murder and violence is now the single largest threat to the creation of an independent news media. Government officials, criminals and terrorists are increasingly using assault and murder to silence the media. Supporting, respecting and, most of all, securing local journalists may be the most critical way the United States can foster the creation of a vibrant free press in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Download the paper (PDF).