By Awad, Abir | The World Today, October/November 2012 | Go to article overview
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Awad, Abir, The World Today

It is almost a year since the last US troops pulled out of Baghdad, so can Afghanistan learn any lessons from the state of Iraq's media sector?

Certainly there have been changes. Under Saddam Hussein, Iraqis lived on a diet of tightly controlled state TV and radio. Satellite dishes were banned and the only alternative sources of information were a handful of Westernfunded Arabic-language medium wave radio stations.

Post-war reconstruction created a new mould for the Iraqi media. Two speedily drafted orders by the Coalition Provisional Authority which ruled from 2003-4 opened the door to a free press. The first dissolved the Ministry of Information in favour of an Ofcomstyle regulator, the Communications and Media Commission, while the second saw the state media reincarnated as a public service provider, the Iraqi Media Network.

With satellite dishes flooding in, everyone soon had easy access to countless new Iraqi TV and radio channels, as well as pan-Arab satellite channels and the internet.

Yet a decade on, Iraq's media is still not performing the role envisaged for it, that of providing information, holding officials to account and supporting the country's faltering steps towards democracy.

It continues to mirror the fractures in Iraqi society, forming a patchwork of politicized TV channels, radio stations, newspapers and websites that largely support a partisan, ethnic or sectarian stance.

Channels come and go depending on financial backing, while the sources of such patronage remain murky. Rumour often points to Saudi Arabia and Qatar on one hand and Iran on the other. This is unlikely to change as international funding winds down. It is unlikely that Iraqi broadcasters can survive on advertising revenue alone and those prepared to fund them will expect output to toe their line.

Media freedom is as much about the maturity of politicians, journalists and audiences as it is about institutionbuilding and legislative frameworks.

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