On Our Kurdish Media
By Hiwa Osman - for ekurd.net
December 1, 2010
Last weekend, I conducted a training course for the
staff of an emerging Kurdish TV station that says it
wants to uphold the values of strong, professional
News judgment was heavily emphasized in the course.
This skill is fundamental for professional
journalists and builds a news outlet’s credibility
as well as its audience. For those not familiar with
the concept, news judgment involves prioritizing the
most important news by placing it at the top of a
story and running the most important news items in a
publication or newscast first.
After a number of discussions, we studied several TV
news bulletins on the same day. All of the stations
are owned by political parties. The bulletins
highlighted the key defect and crippled nature of
political party media.
In one of the exercises, I asked the journalists to
reorder news items based on the impact it had on the
public, and to estimate the number of people
affected by the story.
Hiwa Osman, IWPR Iraq’s country director, previously
served as Iraqi president Jalal Talabani’s media
The result was that we turned the
original bulletin upside down! Instead of running a
story about a leader’s (rather dull and
non-newsworthy) official meetings first, as the
party media had done, we prioritized stories about
mobile petrol stations closing and explosions in
Talafar and Jalawla.
For another exercise, we watched bulletins from two
party-run TV stations and were able to predict
exactly what a third party-affiliated station would
run. The stations’ news line-ups were entirely based
on the political stance of the parties that own
A quick analysis of the stories and issues that news
outlets choose to report shows that the coverage is
reflective of Iraqi’s divisive politics:
pro-government media praises official initiatives
while anti-government media is critical. At the end
of the day, our media tailgates our politics.
But in every society, the number of people who are
interested in politics is much smaller than those
who are not. Our media unfortunately caters to
politicians and political junkies, and fails to give
the public information they need for their daily
Many of my western journalist colleagues have
observed that our media has not yet transitioned
from acting as a political party’s revolutionary
mouthpiece to serving as a mirror of a society that
is working to rebuild itself.
Particularly in this delicate phase, the news media
should reflect our society and should gauge our
progress. So far, this has not occurred. We need to
follow stories from multiple news organizations to
get a complete picture of what is happening in our
country, because most have their own agenda that
does not reflect the entire truth.
We still don’t have a single trustworthy news
source. This is mainly because our media is either
owned by wealthy political parties that are focused
on broadcasting their views to the public (as well
as the daily schedule of its leaders); or by
not-so-wealthy media owners whose outlets primarily
criticize the political parties and publish items
that the parties won’t.
The result is that neither of the two provides the
full picture. In many ways, both operate in the same
way but with different content.
This deadlock will not break until one decides to
fundamentally shift toward independence. This
requires a wealthy investor who wants to change the
landscape of media and to serve as the leading news
source for the public. Such an investment would be
that there is a huge untapped market for credible
information. Advertising dollars would follow. If
this model were applied, the party media would be
left behind as it would be too late for them to
The other avenue is for the political parties to
overhaul their current media policies. This can be
done by prioritizing the public’s need for
information above the party’s desire to inform the
public of its leaders’ meetings.
This is done by separating news from propaganda,
i.e. the news division of any media outlet should be
completely independent from other departments. It
should be managed by professional journalists who
are not even members of the party, who prioritize
public’s right to know.
It is clear that there is a huge news and
information gap in our society. Whoever fills this
gap by creating a trustworthy news outlet will reap
the benefits –the investors will profit and the
political parties will win votes.
is IWPR’s country director in Iraq, previously served as
Iraqi president Jalal Talabani’s media adviser. You
may visit Osman's website at
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