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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 April 2006, 14:59 GMT 15:59 UK
Analysis: Iraq's media three years on
By Steve Metcalf
BBC Monitoring

An Iraqi family watches the trial of former dictator Saddam Hussein on state television
Saddam Hussein is still making his mark in the Iraqi media
The three years since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein have seen a profound transformation in the Iraqi media scene.

Instead of a few, tightly-controlled media outlets, Iraqis now have a choice of hundreds of printed publications and dozens of radio stations and television channels, broadcasting from both inside and outside the country.

But there are plenty of reasons to suggest that this rapid expansion will be unable to sustain itself for long.

Financial pressures

Iraq is, in some respects, displaying the typical features of a deregulated market. The loosening of restrictions initially results in a flood of new players competing for audiences and offering a multitude of choices.

But as the growing number of channels start fighting for smaller amounts of market share, advertising or subscription revenue starts slowing and the weaker stations find themselves going out of business or being forced into deals with their rivals.

The financial viability of media companies in Iraq, especially television channels, is also seriously affected by the security situation.

The general director of Ashur TV, William Warda, told Middle East Broadcasters Journal that 15-20% of the channel's budget was spent on security-related issues such as guards and employee protection schemes.

Just as many Western media organisations have reduced their presence in Iraq because of the continuing violence, a number of Iraqi satellite broadcasters have chosen to base themselves abroad, in Dubai, Beirut and Cairo.

Political backing

What is noticeable about Iraq is the number of broadcasters that are funded by, or at least associated with, religious and political organisations. These are less susceptible to standard market forces, and often broadcast terrestrially over a limited local region.

One of the main Shia groups, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, is linked with three channels: al-Furat TV from Baghdad, al-Nahrayn TV in Kut and Ghadir TV in Najaf. The al-Masar TV channel is affiliated with the Islamic Dawa Party, while at least two other stations, al-Salam TV and Ahl al-Bayt TV, are associated with leading Shia clerics.

In Kurdistan, the Islamic Union of Kurdistan operates local channels in a number of cities. However, the leading stations in the region are operated by the two main, secular political parties.

Kurdistan Satellite TV broadcasts in support of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Massoud Barzani. KurdSat TV supports the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan of Jalal Talabani, a long-time rival of Barzani and currently president of Iraq.


Similar divergences can be detected in two of the main Arabic-language TV channels, al-Sharqiya and al-Iraqiya.

Al-Sharqiya was set up by Saad al-Bazzaz, who held a number of top media posts under Saddam Hussein before leaving the country in 1992. It is seen as reporting events from a Sunni perspective.

Al-Iraqiya was formerly known as the Iraqi Media Network. This was set up in 2003 by the Coalition Provisional Authority with the intention of providing a national broadcaster, but was viewed with distrust by many Iraqis because of its US connections.

However, since al-Iraqiya's handover to the Iraqi authorities, it has increasingly been seen as presenting the view of the Shia-dominated government.

Identity crisis?

Some observers maintain that, rather than simply reflecting divisions in society, Iraq's television channels are actually helping to widen them.

In a recent article in al-Zawra, the newspaper of the Iraqi Journalists Union, Muhammad Sahi argued that, despite the diversity and freedom the channels enjoyed, they were guilty of partiality and confusing their viewers.

More seriously, they had not only "increased sectarianism and deepened ethnicity", he said, but were also responsible for "the fading of the concept of nationalism and patriotism".

As a result, while some viewers were abandoning Iraqi channels in favour of pan-Arab channels such as al-Arabiya, others were being seduced into adopting "the political discourse of their favoured television channels" and acting in accordance with statements made by political leaders.

It would seem that any attempt to establish a genuine national broadcaster, representative of all Iraqis, appears doomed as long as Iraqis themselves cannot agree on a common definition of national identity.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.


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