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Iraqi parties are investing in the media

Social media applications TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Twitch are displayed on a smart phone screen September 30, 2021 [Ali Balıkçı/Anadolu Agency]
Social media applications TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Twitch are displayed on a smart phone screen September 30, 2021 [Ali Balıkçı/Anadolu Agency]

Media institutions in Iraq are thriving, some observers believe, due to the large number of political parties, entities and armed factions that are always looking for platforms to promote themselves and attack their opponents. This is usually done through discourse characterised by hate, bias and sectarianism. Some of these institutions are accused of blackmailing businessmen and companies, money laundering and whitewashing the images of those accused of corruption, which journalists working in them do not deny. Their employers, meanwhile, do not disclose the sources of their funding.

There are about fifty television stations in Iraq, most of which are funded and supported by Iraqi political parties and armed factions. Despite their differences in terms of content, the minimum cost for each one is at least $1.5 million every year; some cost as much as $5m per annum. They are all mouthpieces for their funders.

Now, though, we are seeing multiple parties and political figures funding the same media outlet and promoting the same kind of discourse. This has led to a significant increase in the number of satellite and radio channels, newspapers and websites in Iraq, especially in the run-up to the parliamentary election in October last year. They also use Facebook, Twitter and Telegram. Most of these channels have opened offices in Beirut, in addition to their Baghdad bases, benefiting from the low costs of production and the media production expertise of the Lebanese people.

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Last Tuesday, supporters of the Sadrist movement attacked the headquarters of Channel 4 in Baghdad, because of comments in a programme that were considered to be offensive to the movement and its leader, Muqtada Al-Sadr. They destroyed equipment belonging to the channel, which is owned by a political party within the Coordination Framework Alliance, an ally of Iran.

A number of journalists and employees from Iraqi satellite stations stress that the editorial policies are mostly monitored by partisan figures, although they do not have an actual job title in these organisations. These supervisors appoint correspondents, presenters and news editors, but do not interfere with the appointment of technicians and others who work behind the scenes. Nor do they receive salaries from satellite stations, but they are responsible for paying the monthly salaries at the end of each month.

A prominent journalist, who preferred not to be named, said that, "Iraqi TV stations are now offering the same goods, but perhaps from different origins. There is bigger spending during periods of political tension, in order to promote the funders' side and slander the opponents." He told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that, "Suspicious deals have lost millions of dollars for Iraq, and political money is being laundered through media institutions. There are satellite stations that have been living on political money for more than ten years or exploiting the resources of a ministry or body headed by a member of the party or the bloc itself."

The Iraqi Radio and Television Union, an institution that supports Iraqi media close to Iran's orientation in the country, contributes to this financial support. Despite the decline of this support over the past two years due to the major economic crisis in Iran, it still represents the most important finance artery for about ten channels, including Alghadeer affiliated with the Badr Organisation; Al-Nujaba TV affiliated with the Al-Nujaba militia; Al-Anwar Al-Thani affiliated with the Absent Imam militia; Al-Mawqif affiliated with the Sayyid Al-Shuhada Brigades; and Al-Ayyam affiliated with the Islamic Supreme Council.

"Every political party and armed faction has a satellite station, radio, newspapers and agencies, and this has provided many job opportunities for journalists," explained a member of the Iraqi Journalists' Syndicate, Ali Karim. "Journalists in Iraq have become the least unemployed group, compared to their colleagues in the region. However, the institutions themselves display ignorance, distort facts and obscure important humanitarian issues, while feeding the sectarian discourse." He told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that, "This chaos in the Iraqi media needs to be monitored by the Media and Communications Commission, which has to search for the funding sources of these institutions."

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However, journalist Faten Al-Nuaimi told the same outlet that, "The Commission is the same as the rest of the government bodies; it suffers from parties dominating it, and is subject to partisan and sectarian quotas in naming its supervisory board, which is the approach followed for work in all official departments in Iraq. As such, the media chaos needs new legislation and laws to monitor the financiers of satellite channels." The Iraqi authorities are not afraid of the party and militia media, she added. "It is consistent with the nature of political agreements, but they pursue and harass independent journalists and workers in Arab and foreign institutions."

According to Ali Halim, a member of the monitoring team at the Iraqi Media House, "Around fifty per cent of the current satellite stations were established during the past eight years, and most of them received funding from the leaders of the armed factions in order to promote their discourse and present its members, who participated in the battles against Daesh. These factions took advantage of government money that was allocated to them." He also told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, "These stations are nothing more than platforms that speak on behalf of the armed parties, and they usually spread inflammatory and hate speech through their daily programmes, especially during periods of popular protests that reject uncontrolled weapons and demand reform of the system."

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 10 October 2022

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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