Iraqi Media

FINAL COVER IRAQI MEDIA 2403 The mushrooming of Iraqi local newspapers when Saddam’s regime ended was used by the American government to indicate the successful democratisation of the country.  However, Dr Al Safi describes the transformation as producing an Iraqi media that offered no more than “a plethora of political, ethnic, tribal and sectarian mouthpieces”. In Iraqi Media: From Saddam’s Propaganda to American State-Building, Dr Al Safi sets out a disciplined study of the Iraqi media after the toppling of Saddam’s regime on the 9th of April 2003. Against a background of media oppression during the Saddam era – much of which was pursued by Saddam’s notorious son, Uday – the research discloses American interventions in the operation and work of the Iraqi press between 2003-2006. The three main aspects of these interventions under scrutiny are: press legislation; planning and construction of new press entities; and attempts to influence pro-American press coverage following the invasion. Dr Al Safi’s work draws some startling conclusions and raises some poignant ethical questions about a politically and/or economically motivated media sector. He exposes the American obsession with control of all information and demonstrates how it was doomed to fail once that control was out-sourced to incapable hands in a multi-million dollar contract. This book is drawn from Dr Al Safi’s successful PhD thesis: The Media in Transition: The Rise of An ‘Independent’ Press in Post-Invasion Iraq and the American role in Shaping the Iraqi Press 2003 – 2005 (City University, London).

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Reviews

Review on the World Bank blog here

This is that rare thing, a study by an academic who has actually lived his subject. This book doesn’t just come from some dusty library: Haider Al Safi lived and worked as an Iraqi journalist during the US occupation of his country, risking his life on a daily basis. The result is a gripping account of the difficulties of practising journalism in one of the most dangerous countries in the world. In Al-Safi’s hands, the story of the attempt to forge a free press in Iraq becomes the story of why the occupation failed. A serious and important work –  Justin Huggler, Writer and Journalist

This is an important and timely book about media and its critical role in defining national infrastructures of culture. It is also an impassioned critique of the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq and Washington’s subsequent misguided and clumsy efforts to socially engineer a country while ignoring the vibrant heterogeneity of its civil society discourses. The overthrow of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was followed by an outburst of activity in the media sector, initially print but soon after satellite TV. The international media development actors were initially encouraged by the Coalition Provisional Authority’s rhetorical commitment to Article 19 freedoms and independent media, and the loosening of self-censorship following the dismantling of the hated surveillance regime established over decades.  However the optimistic policy of “letting a thousand flowers bloom” was misplaced and ultimately irresponsible; the dismantling of regulatory mechanisms and agencies, as well as of the security forces, plunged Iraq into chaos which soon assumed a sectarian tone. After three decades of institutionalized violence and corruption, brutality had itself become a structured means of self-expression and media professionals were among the first victims. Iraqi journalist Dr Haider Kadhum (Al Safi) is one of the best placed to guide us through the confusion and chaos of the Iraqi media sector in the turbulent years following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. He describes at first-hand the impact of arbitrary and contradictory decisions by the CPA and interim Iraqi Government and the efforts by courageous and committed individuals to make sense of their country and build a media sector that would uphold the democratic principles that supposedly guided the occupation of their land.  As violence continues to rock the Middle East, this book is a warning and a lesson that should be read by policy makers and donors if they want to help resolve the crises in the region, rather than contribute to their continuation Jacky Sutton, Iraq Media Expert & Director of IF Consultants

What makes Dr Al Safi’s study so valuable is that it is based on close personal knowledge of media in Iraq and the circumstances in which it existed. There have been a flood of books by foreigners about the post-Saddam era, but few studies by Iraqis who were well-informed observers of what was happening in Iraq – Patrick Cockburn, Journalist

Dr Al Safi’s book offers a fascinating chronological juxtaposition of dictatorship and occupation.  This thorough, academic study of Iraqi media pre and post Saddam also has its “shock and awe” moments.   Saddam Hussein’s persecution of the journalist tallies with the popular narrative on his reign, but the fact that Uday Hussein’s paranoid actions may have been perversely good for Iraqi journalists is a new story.  Anti-war activists are no stranger to the fact that the US spent a lot of money on the Iraq, but Al-Safi reveals a far darker, deeper take: the millions spent prior to the invasion to support the exiled opposition; the cronyism involved in awarding private contracts; and the $200 million spent between 2003-2005 – representing the largest ever attempt by any country to build a “free” media. Al Safi asks loudly, “to what extent should foreigners intervene in post-conflict society to build media space?” – Caroline Jaine, Former Diplomat and author of “A Better Basra”

The Americans were in Baghdad. Saddam Hussein’s statue had been pulled down in Firdous Square, George W Bush declared victory; the US and Britain pledged to lift up the oppressed people of Iraq and introduce democracy and freedom. According to Washington and London, this, of course, included freedom of the press after decades of censorship and persecution of journalists.  Haider Al Safi demonstrates in this well researched and intelligently observed thesis how this was a sham. Paul Bremer, sent by the neo-cons as the proconsul of Iraq, and the Pentagon sought instead to manipulate the media. Money was poured into publications set up to support the occupation while restrictions were imposed on those considered to be troublesome. Two of the first edicts of Mr Bremer, as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority were to ban members of the Ba’ath Party from holding public office and disband Iraq’s armed forces. The result was one of the bloodiest insurgencies of modern times. At the same time the Iraqi Penal Code allowing punitive measures against the media were left untouched; the Americans actually brought in new measures giving them the right to close down newspapers, magazines and broadcasting stations deemed to have broken rules they had imposed. While exploring this scene of deceit and disillusionment, Haider charts the history of the media in Iraq – the all to frequent periods of harassment, persecution and, at times, murders of journalists. He also describes how Saddam’s son Uday used newspapers to settle scores within the regime. Haider examines how the Americans ran the media in two previously defeated enemy states, Germany and Japan – basically one of political control – as well as more egalitarian blueprints established by the West in other places of intervention like Bosnia and Kosovo. It was clear which model the Americans preferred. When UN official Simon Haselock, the head of the media advisory team in Iraq, met Donald Rumsfeld’s aide, Larry Do Rita, he was told: “Forget how you did it in the Balkans, the Pentagon is in charge, and they intend to do things their own way.” Those of us who worked as journalists in Iraq under the regime experienced the censorship and corruption of the Ministry of Information. We felt it was only right that it should be shut down (interestingly, two of the most senior officials from this propaganda machine ended up on the payroll of Fox News). One of the few good things to come out of the invasion, we thought, would be a free press. Haider provides very useful insight into why that did not happen. The Iraq conflict was one of the most dangerous and bloodiest my colleagues in the Western media and I have ever covered. But we were lucky; we could jet off to safety after a few months at a time there. Local journalists like Haider did not have that option. Having that experience on the ground gives his work the authority some others do not have. I am writing this from Afghanistan. Here too there are contentious issues about the media, foreign forces and insurgency. One can only hope that an Afghan Haider will one day be in a position to provide a similarly valuable account of what unfolded here. – Kim Sengupta, Defence and Diplomatic Correspondent, The Independent    

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