The recent election events in Iraq, both in the campaign period and the aftermath, have put the professionalism and competence of Iraqi media and its many outlets under scrutiny, and most observers would not pass any of them with flying colours.
While they range in their impartiality between pretence and outright vulgar promotion of certain political parties to the extent that a family visit of the head of a party is breaking headline news! None of them seem to have taken on the mantle of fairness in comment. Al-Hurra Iraq could be considered to have come closest to that, but one cannot ignore the fact that is firstly not an Iraqi channel, secondly it was set up by the US Government with the political aim of improving the image of the US in the Arab world.
This introduces two problems, each channel is on an ideological mission devoid of of the aim of presenting fair facts to its viewers, resulting in those viewers being further polarised and stifling debate between various groups of Iraqi society and hindering progress in reconciliation. In fact, the way these outlets cherry-pick their facts and news can lead to fanning the flames of tensions between the various sects of Iraqis, and creating further sentiments of disenchantment.
The second problem is a result of the first, since the outlets are not working towards an economic goal of expanding their viewer base through impartiality and fairness, their very survival will depend on funds from various interested sources. These sources could be foreign with agendas against Iraqi national interest, again resulting in hardship to Iraq and its long-suffering people.
And although it is understandable that certain parties would use these outlets for self-promotion, it is disheartening to see the Iraqi Media Network, which was supposedly set up as an independent media agency, being forced to become an tool for the government rather than the state, most likely due to the fact that all other agencies are politicised and the government had to find a means of expression amidst the opposing voices.
Such problems can be solved through either forcing the media to declare their earnings and sources of income and be run as commercial entities, which can seem draconian, or through applying the “fair comment” doctrine, which establishes a set of rules and is enforced through the legal system. Both solutions are vulnerable to political interference and require a certain amount of political will and restraint by governmental bodies to ensure their impartiality.
While most people still debate the merits and detriments of the invasion of Iraq, few can dispute the fact that it has offered Iraqis a freedom of expression of unprecedented levels in the Middle East. We are, however, running the danger of abusing that freedom and losing all its benefits.