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Home > Country focus > Iraq > Iraqi media being bought and sold as elections approach

Iraqi media being bought and sold as elections approach

Tuesday 15 April 2014, by Al Akhbar (English edition)

Baghdad: As the Iraqi parliamentary elections approach, several organizations, associations, and unions are sounding the alarm over the state of Iraqi media. They indicated that politicians and businessmen have used their power to influence major media outlets, putting independent Iraqi media in danger.

Audiences were surprised to see a radical transformation in the discourse and news coverage of some channels shortly before the start of campaigning for the parliamentary elections that are scheduled at the end of this month. Rumors in media circles claim that major political blocs have bought influential print, television, and online outlets. Some wealthy supporters of candidates have launched satellite channels and news agencies, aiming to promote their favored candidates and influence public opinion.

The Press Freedom Advocacy Association in Iraq, which monitors violations against journalists and the media, revealed that politicians are purchasing a large number of shares in some satellite channels and established news agencies. This phenomenon began more than three months prior to the elections, with political parties hoping they can influence the media as much as possible ahead of the polls. "What we see is basically the purchase of previously independent media outlets by heads of political blocs," Uday Hatem, who heads the association, told Al-Akhbar. "Political greed prevented election coverage from reaching the public in an independent and professional manner. It was turned into propaganda aiming to sway voters."

Hatem felt sorry for "some independent and semi-independent media organizations who gave into material and political temptation." He believed it was due to the weak support received by independent media outlets in Iraq, who are deprived from government advertising, their main source of revenue. The deprivation is a result of the control of political mafias over the advertising lines in most Iraqi governmental departments.

Hatem also said that some heads of electoral lists and wealthy political parties launched television channels and online news agencies, in addition to local radio stations in some districts, hoping to enter the world of politics through the elections. He maintained that some parties bribed several journalists from different ideological affiliations to work with them. According to Hatem, the phenomenon is a "dangerous turn for journalism, from the fourth estate to cheap deals. This takes us far from our aspirations for a civil state, where the press plays its role in a professional and independent manner."
In the same context, satellite channel Al-Sharqiya, owned by former journalist and current businessman Saad al-Bazzaz, reopened its offices in several districts after changing its discourse abruptly several months ago to become less antagonistic towards the government. Its reporters went back to work in various governorates, three years after all its offices had been closed, with the exception of the Erbil office. This led to accusations by some Muttahidoun Bloc MPs, headed by Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi, that they were receiving money from the government. In turn, the government had in the past accused Al-Sharqiya of sectarian incitement and distorting facts. Since its launch in 2004, the station had been famous for its scathing criticism against the government in its news broadcasts and political programming, ridiculing Iraqi government officials in its comedies and dramas.

On the other hand, Al-Baghdadiya channel, broadcasting from Cairo, had been prohibited from working from Iraq since 2010. Al-Baghdadiya’s offices were closed down by order from the Communications and Media Commission, in charge of regulating media in Iraq, which accused the channel of having links with armed groups. It had been famous for its scathing criticism of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and members of his State of Law Coalition and openly called for not electing him again. Recently, some local media outlets, suspected of being owned by the coalition, quoted MP Salman al-Mousawi announcing that the Egyptian government agreed to a request by the Iraqi Foreign Affairs Ministry to close down Al-Baghdadiya’s offices in Cairo, claiming it served "external agendas."

However, "after contacting colleagues in Al-Baghdadiya in Cairo, they denied being harassed by the Egyptian government in relation to their work. They are bound by a contract with Cairo Media City," clarified Hatem. He suspected the news or the MP’s declarations to be an attempt to terrorize the station and its workers.

The number one supporter of corruption

Qais al-Ajrash, a member of the National Union of Iraqi Journalists (NUIJ), told Al-Akhbar that "the media being influenced during election season is more than expected, especially with such outlets surrendering to big business, which continues to benefit from the wave of corruption."

"Iraq has tremendous amounts of money, which is exclusively spent by the government," he added. "But this is not reflected in the quality of services and livelihood. This means that money is being stolen." In the past several days, Iraq has been witnessing an unprecedented number of secret documents leaked by some donors of new media outlets in order to defeat their opponents in the elections.

SOURCE: http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/iraqi-media-being-bought-and-sold-elections-approach

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