Iraqi Media Struggling to Save Face

Article Summary
Iraq may be an officially democratic nation, but most Iraqi media outlets are dependent on political and religious institutions for funding. Today, the Iraqi media faces serious threats to its professionalism, independence and, as a result, its credibility. Hamid al-Kafa’i reports.

In Iraq, some prominent political figures are rarely criticized by journalists because they fear reprisal and prosecution at the hands of their followers and advocates. Militias and party leaders cannot be criticized either. I am not talking about the major religious figures who should remain above criticism — and separated from politics — but I am talking about politicians who bestow religious qualities upon themselves. Are these people above criticism as well, despite the damage they do to the public interest?

Freedom is limited in Iraq. In other words, freedom is biased against the weak, who lack religious or military immunity and constantly face harassment, defamation and assassination. Meanwhile, other Iraqis are granted full immunity because of their religion, and are thus protected by party organizations and military power.

Moreover, Iraqi media is financially and politically dependent. Most media outlets are affiliated with political or religious parties, or businessmen who seek to gain profits regardless of alliance. Even unaffiliated media institutions are forced to keep pace with their government-controlled funders: they do not own the means to function independently, due to an undeveloped and unreliable commercial sector.

Websites, on the other hand, have a certain degree of freedom and independence, as they are allowed to publish all sorts of materials. However, due to an absence of regulation, most of these websites lack professionalism and journalistic responsibility. Tragically, the owners of some Iraqi-based websites fear for their lives and are forced to write under pseudonyms.

Furthermore, Iraqi media suffers from a serious shortage of professional staff who lack the practical experience possessed by journalists in independent, democratic countries. The number of journalists and technicians working in Iraqi media is estimated to be more 20,000 employees. However, most of them did not have the chance to gain adequate professional experience aside from their practical experiences in Iraq and perhaps their own initiatives. The problem is that even the media-training staff themselves lack professionalism and expertise. They only seek personal benefit in working for foreign-funded projects.

The lack of professional media standards is notably reflected in journalistic statements and news, which do not provide any new information to recipients. Reports are poorly broadcast in terms of language and content, focusing on the superficial dimension of the story and ignoring its core message. Moreover, interviews are only conducted to put certain interviewees under the spotlight, or to promote the media outlet broadcasting the interview. Talk shows are also randomly presented without any specific outline.

The Iraqi media is also obsessed with religious broadcasts. Most channels become religious during the Islamic months of Muharram, Safar, Shaaban, Ramadan and Zul-Hijjah, and also during religious events. Some channels go so far as to change their names during religious occasions. This underscores only one fact: Media outlets are greatly controlled by political and religious forces.

Overall, the media has three main objectives. One is providing the public with information about politics, culture, health, education and well-being.The second is promoting ideas, goods and services. The third is providing entertainment through game shows, movies, songs and other entertainment programs. Successful media outlets are the ones able to broadcast a variety of shows without giving prominence to one program at the expense of another. Programs that do not include entertainment become less interesting. That is why economic and scientific programs do not generate a high rate of viewers. However, entertainment and marketing programs should not be broadcast at the expense of professional standards and independence, which will only lead the media outlet to lose its credibility.

The Iraqi scene may appear bleak, but the media landscape is diverse and reflects all colors of the political, religious, national and social spectrum. However, there have been attempts to reduce this diversity by pressuring media outlets to be biased in favor of certain parties.

In a real democratic system, the future drives the present and the past is a learning experience. But in Iraq, the past governs the present and the future. The strangest thing is that some are seeking to "amend the past," which is not only impossible but also has serious consequences for the future.

Found in: religious programming, religion, media, journalism in iraq, journalism, iraqi media outlets, iraq, freedom of expression, democracy

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