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WikiLeaks: 2006-02-22: 06BAGHDAD554: Freedom of Speech in Iraq 2006, Part I: Media Gold Rush in a "Virtual" Marketplace

by WikiLeaks. 06BAGHDAD554: February 22, 2006.

Posted: Sunday, February 05, 2012 at 11:25 AM UTC

Viewing cable 06BAGHDAD554, Freedom of Speech in Iraq 2006, Part I:

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06BAGHDAD554 2006-02-22 03:51 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Baghdad
DE RUEHGB #0554/01 0530351
R 220351Z FEB 06
E.O. 12958: N/A 
SUBJECT:  Freedom of Speech in Iraq 2006, Part I: 
Media Gold Rush in a "Virtual" Marketplace 
1.  (U)   This is the first in a series of cables 
that will address the media environment in Iraq in 
early 2006.  Embassy PAS will review positive 
developments since liberation in 2003 (outlined 
below); examine popular attitudes on the limits of 
free speech; assess the Iraqi public broadcaster; 
and outline challenges presented by coalition and 
Iraqi government activities.  The series will 
provide thumbnail sketches of the major outlets and 
players.  Finally, it will review some suggestions 
for the U.S. and other donors who are interested in 
supporting free press as a key pillar of civil 
2.  (U)  It is very difficult to define the "media 
market" in Iraq.  There has never been anything 
quite like it in history:  in post-war Germany and 
Japan, Allied forces owned the airwaves and 
controlled programming for years.  There were 
already some elements of a market economy 
established in those countries, so once Allied 
broadcasters began permitting commercial channels 
and economic capacity resumed, media emerged 
according to market principles.  Demographic 
homogeneity in those countries also limited the 
number of voices seeking outlets. 
3.  (U)  Eastern Europe transformed peacefully, and 
thus commercial media emerged without competition 
from "combat zone" actors that one finds in Iraq. 
In Afghanistan, NGOs had pre-war experience and 
thus could identify elements of independent civil 
society; furthermore, the security situation there 
permits greater scope of operation for capacity- 
building and investment.  The Balkans may offer the 
closest example, but Tito's Yugoslavia was more 
open than Saddam's Iraq and the change there came 
before journalism went totally electronic and 
digital, thus the skill gap was smaller. 
Furthermore, Iraq, with its importance to the 
global economy, global religion, and regional 
politics, is an automatic draw for anyone with a 
message.  Not surprisingly, with so much in flux, 
there are some interesting dynamics. 
4.  (U)  CPA abolished Iraq's ministry of 
information, which usefully denied the government a 
monopoly on news (although this move left 50,000 
employees jobless).  CPA also set up a legal 
framework for media (and telecommunications) 
regulation and public broadcasting modeled on BBC. 
CPA substantially funded technical training and new 
equipment for both these institutions and gave them 
guaranteed income (from the Treasury and telecom 
licenses) to protect their independence. 
5.  (U)  This environment proved enticing.  As we 
highlighted in the embassy Human Rights Report for 
2005, Iraq has advanced light years beyond Saddam- 
era prohibitions on free speech.  The country has 
over 200 newspapers, at least 20 TV stations, and 
countless radio outlets; they function at the 
national, regional, and local levels, and broadcast 
in Arabic, Kurdish, Turkmen, and Syriac. 
6.  (U)  Liberation set off an information "gold 
rush" as political parties, entrepreneurs, 
opportunists, exiles, foreign governments, and 
conscientious citizens swarmed to stake claims in a 
sector with enormous potential to shape opinions 
regionally.  Indeed, the sector has surged faster 
than Iraq's media regulator can track them (the 
National Communications and Media Commission/ NCMC 
retains a CPA mandate to assign broadcast 
frequencies).  As of January 2006, NCMC had 
licensed 108 entities:  28 terrestrial TV; 25 
satellite TV; 41 FM radio; and 14 AM radio 
7. (SBU)  In Iraq today, journalists frequently and 
openly criticize the government, ministers and 
senior officials with a freedom that is rare in the 
region.  Perhaps 25% of the new outlets can be 
classified as "independent;" they express a wide 
variety of views, including mainstream Shia- 
flavored stations that are a first for the Arab 
world (COMMENT:  a welcome change to Hizballah's al- 
BAGHDAD 00000554  002 OF 004 
8.  (SBU)  Stations permit Iraqis to phone in 
questions to officials, and a few political satires 
have emerged to acclaim, such as al-Baghdadiya's 
"Dialog of the Deaf" and al-Sharqiya's show 
"Caricatures."  December 2005 election programs 
featured live debates with multiple candidates, a 
novelty for the region.  Although recently caught 
up in political crosscurrents, CPA legal structures 
and equipment are still in place to facilitate true 
public broadcasting by the Iraq Media Network. 
9. (U)  According to numerous polls (polling 
capability itself an indicator of new freedoms), 
the most widely watched television stations were 
independent al-Sharqiya and public broadcaster al- 
Iraqiya, along with Arabic-language satellite 
channels broadcasting from outside Iraq, such as al- 
Arabiya and al-Jazeera.  Several other outlets are 
gaining popularity, such as entertainment channel 
10.  (SBU)  There are other indications of new 
maturity in Iraq's media world:  Private funding, 
external printing, limited ads and text messaging 
services are providing some reliable income 
streams.  A September 2005 story by a reporter for 
the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), 
which trains journalists in Iraq, confirms this, 
reporting a veritable boom in independent shops 
"printing books, pamphlets and newspapers 
prohibited under the old government."  Partly this 
is driven by newspapers themselves.  The piece 
noted that "in Baghdad alone, there are 80 titles 
with a combined daily circulation of 200,000."  A 
new independent news agency - National Iraqi News 
Agency (NINA), supported by USAID, has helped Iraqi 
journalists to support over 100,000 visits per 
month on its website and now has a link with BBC 
Arabic news. 
11.  (U)  Elections last year further boosted the 
industry, allowing printers to buy presses and 
computer applications.  One employee at Ibn- 
Khaldoon print shop told IWPR he had paid 60,000 
USD for a new press, suddenly affordable with 
"monthly incomes averaging 2040 USD." 
12. (U)  There are also more and more local TV and 
broadcasting production companies who can be 
contracted by the stations to produce shows.  The 
Embassy Public Affairs section is aware of at least 
ten such companies, capabilities are fairly 
professional, and certainly more attuned culturally 
to the Iraqi scene than Egyptian, Lebanese and Gulf 
Arab competitors who are still technically far more 
13.  (U)  A definitive piece on Iraq's media 
freedoms by freelance journalist Jill Carroll in 
mid-2004, just before CPA handed the reins to a 
sovereign Iraqi government, quoted Nada Shawkat, 
women's editor at Az Zaman newspaper, rejoicing 
that she could finally "practice her trade free of 
many restrictions imposed on the press after the 
war with Kuwait." 
14.  (SBU) Unlike other entrepreneurs eyeing Iraq, 
media investors are able to locate much of their 
infrastructure (safely) offshore.  We see satellite 
TV stations now targeting the Iraqi market from 
Dubai (al-Fayha'), Kuwait (al-Anwar), Cairo and 
Lebanon (al-Baghadiya), and London (al-Sharqiya, al- 
Zaman).  Al-Furat newspaper began publishing from 
Paris, where its expatriate editor lived for over a 
decade.  These outlets are harbingers of other 
private investment in Iraq, sure to follow when 
security improves. 
Trial by (Gun)fire 
15.  (SBU)  Iraq's global strategic importance and 
the pace and volume of events here thrust local 
actors onto a global stage.  They have literally 
learned on the fly, observing seasoned Western 
journalists at joint press conferences and 
competing with them for top stories.  That has 
BAGHDAD 00000554  003 OF 004 
honed talent.  Locals have also reaped a bonus from 
the eviction by then-PM Allawi of al-Jazeera, which 
had it been here, would have probably crushed much 
of the local competition by dint of pure 
16.  (U)  Carroll's piece highlighted a bittersweet 
side of this media boon.  Security threats and 
impenetrable political and cultural environments 
have thrown up formidable barriers to foreign 
journalists, who rely substantially on intrepid 
local talent.  Most foreigners now rely on Iraqi 
legwork and add flavor with "stand ups" from 
(relatively safe) hotel balconies.  Carroll's 2004 
piece quoted a Baghdad bureau chief of an American 
newspaper noting "after three decades of secret 
police, oppression and propaganda about the West, 
there's much distrust of outsiders."  Indeed, these 
phenomena persist in 2006; reliance on Iraqis is 
likely to rise with the tragic January abduction of 
Carroll and the near-fatal injury sustained by ABC 
anchor Bob Woodruff. 
17.  (U)  In late 2005, we saw bylines from several 
Iraqis in major media outlets:  Mohammed Hayder 
reporting from Basra for Newsweek; Qassim Abdul- 
Zahra and Murtada Faraj from Baghdad, Yahya 
Barzanji from Kirkuk, Ali Ahmed from Ramadi, Haider 
Hani in Amara, Gahid Jabbar from Karbala and Zeki 
Hamad from Tikrit, Haider Hani in Amarahall for AP; 
Mahmud al-Rawi reported for Al-Jazeera; Hala Jaber 
for the London Sunday Times; and Ghaith Abdul Ahad 
reported on insurgents for the Guardian and 
Washington Post.  Even banned Al-Jazirah uses 
stringers, like Falih Abd-al-Qadir who reported 
from Al-Qa'im on December elections. 
Iraq Gets a Media Pool 
18.  (U)  The Iraqi media has acquired important 
professional capacity.  Since April, 2005 over 
1,000 Iraqi journalists and managers have received 
technical training from USAID on investigative 
journalism and strategic management.  Over two 
hundred journalists have received informal training 
by working with MNFI and Embassy press officers, 
and up to 100 have participated in PAS exchange 
programs in the U.S. and the region.  The U.S. has 
also invested heavily in infrastructure and 
training for both Iraq's independent media and 
telecommunications regulator and the Independent 
Media Network, both established by CPA. 
19. (U)   While the media has not replaced Saddam- 
era unions, they did organize a national media 
pool, driven by constraints on access to sites 
(such as the Saddam trial courthouse).  With much 
coaching by MNFI public affairs officers, several 
outlets agreed in September 2005 to form the Iraqi 
National Media Pool (INMP).  The INMP is managed by 
the media for the media, with notable democratic 
20.  (U)  The pool management team was selected by 
Bureau Chiefs in September.  Members of the INMP 
share output from INMP print, radio and television 
representatives, and rotate these slots monthly. 
The pool has notably boosted Iraq media access and 
thus coverage.  This in turn prompts public buy-in 
for key events such as the Abu Ghraib detainee 
release, NATO HQ opening, Fallujah anniversary, 
Khor Az Zubayr power plant opening, and Mosul 
transition of authority. 
21.  (U)  The INMP is open to all Arabic outlets. 
It has 52 members, including Asharq Al-Awsat and al- 
Arabiya TV (pan-Arab), and Addustour, Azzaman, Al- 
Mada and Al-Mashriq (Iraqi).  Nine radio stations 
include Radio Sawa, Radio BBC Arabic, Radio Monte 
Carlo, and Kurdistan Radio.  Three of the top five 
TV stations in Iraq - Al-Arabiya, Al-Sharqiya, al- 
Hurra -- also belong.  With pan-Arab members, the 
pool thus also provides a launchpad for regional 
dissemination and provides a forum for the transfer 
of know-how to nascent Iraqi outlets. 
BAGHDAD 00000554  004 OF 004 
22.  (SBU)  There are many promising new "shoots" 
and many more seeds that have been planted in Iraq 
for free and independent media that can serve as a 
model to the region.  These shoots, as we will see 
from subsequent cables, still require care and 
feeding from interested outsiders.  More critical 
will be the continued support from an Iraqi 
government that may not feel at ease with the 
unfamiliar press "watchdog" that purports to track 
both its achievements and setbacks. 


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