Ten years after Iraq was declared as liberated, many are reflecting on how Iraq presents itself to the world today. Our mediatised view of the country is one rife with renewed sectarian divide, and as previously written, any economic good news is overshadowed by the rise violence. One aspect given much attention in the efforts to build a new Iraq was the media sector. A decade later the Iraqi government announced their decision to ban Al-Jazeera and nine Iraqi television channels, eight of which are Sunni. They claim the channels were fuelling sectarian divide.
On the same day as the media ban and the anniversary of “liberation”, Dr Al-Safi quietly launched his academic study of Iraqi media. His research for “Iraqi Media” lasted three years and earned him a PhD from City University, London. The book offers a fascinating chronological juxtaposition of dictatorship and occupation and this thorough, academic study of Iraqi media pre and post Saddam also has its “shock and awe” moments. Saddam Hussein’s persecution of the journalist tallies with the popular narrative on his reign, but the fact that Uday Hussein’s paranoid actions may have been perversely good for Iraqi journalists is a new story. Through his interviews with hundreds, Al Safi also reveals complexities and challenges in a frank and detailed account of the post Saddam attempt to build a “free” media. He claims, the largest media-building project ever attempted.
Although he presents this juxtaposition, he encouraged readers at his launch to not simply compare the pre and post Saddam eras, but to look deeper. His book convincingly describes the problem of “freedom-disorder” in an unregulated press as being as unsatisfactory as a state-controlled media sector. And when asked about Iraqi media today he concedes the situation is still not a healthy one. The main problem he says is training journalists, but it also stems from corrupt editors and an infrastructure which does not understand what journalism means. For many of us a media sector that is able to challenge authority and hold government to account is very much part of a free and thriving democracy – but for Iraq it still seems a long way off.
In his end notes, Dr Al Safi offers the reader the notion of a tantalising sequel which looks at post 2006 Iraq and encompasses the role of social media. In a fast-moving political and security environment it is hard to make a book on Iraqi media current and relevant, but we can always learn from the past if it is presented well. In Iraq’s case the story of her media sector is a particularly rocky one. One can only hope that in another three years, with the impact of economic success in the country, the next installation by Al Safi will show some improvement at least.
“Iraqi Media” by Dr Haider Al Safi is available directly from Askance Publising.