BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. The newspapers of Baghdad, says Guardian columnist Salam Pax, are like the famous bread of bag-al-agha --hot, crispy and cheap. One, he writes, is even published by a pastry salesman. The Jordanian paper Alarab-Alyawm reported that more than 60 papers have appeared -- up from 5 during Saddam's reign. Everyone seems to have a voice in Baghdad. Of course some voices are louder than others. For example, the U.S.-led occupation force which is currently devising a code of conduct for the press. Mike Furlong, a senior advisor to the Provision Coalition Authority, told the AP that, quote, "There's no room for hateful and destabilizing messages that will destroy the emerging Iraqi democracy." But U.S. officials there say there will be no attempt to block criticism of the occupation. NPR's Deb Amos joins us now from Baghdad. Deb, welcome to On the Media!
DEB AMOS: Thanks, Brooke! And that number is up -- it's somewhere around -- oh, a little over a hundred newspapers now that are on the streets.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Wow! Who's publishing them?
DEB AMOS:Everybody! For example, I went the other day to the office of the Independent Iraqi Political Prisoners, and they have a newspaper that's named after the day that George Bush ended the war. They have news and a variety of things, and on the front page every day they have a story from one of the prisoners that recounts the experiences of them in prison. There's political cartoons in that paper. The one that people read more than any is one that will be translated into The Times. Al [zuh MONG] [sp?] - it was published a long time out of London, and it was an old minister of information employee who parted company with Saddam and moved to London. That paper is the most professional-looking of any of them. It has pictures of starlets on the back page cause I see them when we're jogging down the street, and they have the most up to date Iraqi news.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now among all of these newspapers, are there some that seem to be snapped up from the stands more than others?
DEB AMOS:Well people don't have money right now, so what you see are Iraqis standing in front of newsstands reading them but not buying them, and the reason you can have so many right now is there's no licenses required; there's no law about it; so anybody can start one.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:And what do they look like? Are they mimeographed, you know, 8 x 10 pages? Are they broadsheets? Are they tabloids, as we know them here?
DEB AMOS: Also the same variety. I mean a couple of days ago we saw one that was a mimeographed sheet, and there was a picture of Saddam on it, so we were interested enough to go and buy it -- and it was a story about one of Saddam's look-alikes who was an electricity worker, and if you can imagine what kind of shock people must have been in when he showed up at the front door-- [LAUGHTER] others are quite professional - color photographs - the one that's coming in from London looks like that. But they also run the gamut from the quite professional to essentially the handwritten copy on the side of the street.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Has it invigorated the marketplace of ideas? Does this reflect a genuine diversity I guess I want to ask in Baghdad?
DEB AMOS:I think so. But there's also some dangers to that. There was a newspaper last week that reported that some U.S. soldiers had raped a young woman in one of the neighborhoods here, and that caused quite a stir! Centcom went out of its way to put on its own web site that they had investigated thoroughly. This was an incident that did not happen, and that's a worrying kind of reporting here! Because it can stir up the population -- it's a very, very sensitive topic! So there's no laws against incitement yet. Nothing that has come out of the U.S. occupying forces. They are talking about making an incitement law to be able to shut down newspapers that print hate speech against other ethnic groups, wild rumors -- but it's not in place yet.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:I guess this is the press code that the allied force is currently working on. So principally they're worried about hate speech, but when you start talking about incitement -- that can cover a, a wide variety of political expression, and as we've heard so often, part of this effort is to extent out democratic principles abroad. The minute you start developing a code, don't you walk into a quagmire?
DEB AMOS: Well worse than that, Brooke, the courts are really not operating; lawyers aren't able to function. All the, the ways that we understand those kind of laws -- they can't function here, because the rest of the institutional backup isn't there either. I think that the coalition forces want to encourage free speech, but they are finding out themselves that after 30 years of one-man rule here, Iraqis are having a little trouble figuring out what exactly freedom is! So that's why you are seeing such a cacophony of voices and people testing out what exactly you're allowed to put out on the street.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Deb Amos, thank you very much.
DEB AMOS: Thanks, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Deb Amos is in Baghdad reporting for National Public Radio.