Annenberg Report Catalogs Threats and Opportunities Posed by Iraq’s New Domestic Media Scene

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How free can media be in a conflict-ridden society like Iraq? That’s one of the questions explored in a report – an Occasional Paper – published by the Center for Global Communication Studies (CGCS) at the Annenberg School for Communication of the University of Pennsylvania.

There have been surprising signs of a vigorous, open media in Iraq with wide latitude to publish and broadcast, and even criticize the fledgling government. But the media system is evolving; it increasingly reflects the schisms of current Iraqi society. And as civil war or secular strife intensifies, government intrusions become more evident.

The Occasional Paper, “Toward an Understanding of Media Policy and Media Systems in Iraq: A Foreword and Two Reports,” was prepared by Monroe Price, Director of CGCS and an Adjunct Full Professor at Annenberg; Douglas Griffin, Director of Albany Associates, an international consulting firm specializing in communications and public diplomacy strategies; and Ibrahim Al-Marashi, Ph.D., a former Visiting Scholar at the Annenberg School for Communication and currently an Open Society Institute Policy Scholar at the Center for Policy Studies at Central European University in Budapest.

The paper emerged from a study on Iraq’s regulatory regime commissioned by the state’s regulatory body, the Communications and Media Commission of Iraq. Its policy recommendations are combined with an introduction by Professor Price, analyzing the notion of media intervention and assistance, and a paper by Al-Marashi that examines how this notion has played out in Iraq.

"Global media is a vast and sometimes very tangled web. This Occasional Paper- the first in a series to be published by Annenberg scholars from CGCS, is aimed at examining the structure and role of media throughout, and their implications for national and international communication policy," said Michael X. Delli Carpini, Ph.D., Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication.

The Occasional Report chronicles a period of experimentation and competition among the media emerging from the period of the Coalition Provisional Authority and continuing through the first Iraqi governments. The analysis in the documents reveals changes in the legal framework of regulation. The media show a growing tendency toward ethno-sectarianism, which threatens to disrupt an already fragile environment.

Iraqi media expanded when the Iraqi Ministry of Information was abolished after the 2003 invasion and after efforts by U.S. and British officials to establish a media framework. As the report indicates, “Citizens have various outlets, such as talk shows, call-in programs, and man-on-the-street interviews to express their desires, complaints, and frustrations.”

“Most studies of media on an international stage have focused on issues primarily of concern to Western journalists or governments, such as access to information, journalist safety, or media as a mode of affecting public opinion,” said Professor Price. “Our focus is on the developing structure and regulatory environment of the media in Iraq.”

The Occasional Paper discusses the variety of owners of Iraq’s media, and categorizes it into five broad groups: 1. Media owned by the Iraqi state, 2. Media owned by political Islamist groups (religious/sectarian factions), 3. Media owned by ethnic political parties, 4. Media owned by entities calling for violence, and 5. Media owned by independent entities.

The documents included in the Occasional Paper demonstrate that outlets increasingly reflect the intensely partisan militias and religious groups that characterize contemporary Iraq. While there has been no outright censorship, the government has begun to close down some media outlets, and intimidation is becoming more frequent. As the report notes, among the journalists and broadcasters who are killed, many are Iraqi.

CGCS, established as a project in 2004 at the Annenberg School, is charged with expanding and coordinating the school’s work in international, global and comparative communication research and studies.