Journalist Anneke van Ammelrooy reports from Iraq on the struggle for independent journalism.

The struggle for independent media in Iraq

September 2005 -

The Iraq newspaper Al-Sabah Al-Jadeed (The New Morning) recently celebrated its first birthday. The newspaper was born in 2004 the day after the complete Al-Sabah (The Morning) staff quit their jobs. Like the national broadcasting company, Al-Sabah was financed by an American company – Harris – which did not want the newspaper to be independent. The Harris employee who was able to convince the Pentagon has since been locked up in Iraq.

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Al-Sabah Al-Jadeed's website

Al-Sabah Al-Jadeed is a sixteen-page daily, with advertisements filling one and half to five pages. The newspaper now has the Iraq’s best culture section, the most scoops, a series of excellent editorials by both national and foreign contributors, and two columns each day with touching letters to the editor from readers complaining about the government.

From day one Al-Sabah Al-Jadeed has struggled with opposition in the areas of distribution, purchasing paper, and acquisition. This has made it impossible for the newspaper to increase either its price or the number of copies sold. It has lost income totalling hundreds of thousands as a result. To temporarily cover the losses, the newspaper has appealed to the DOEN foundation in the Netherlands.
Four weeks after Al-Sabah Al-Jadeed was established, a kidnapping attempt was made on chief editor Ismael Zayer which, although failed, cost the lives of his bodyguard and chauffeur. Even now, guns are always kept within reach in the reception area. And still the journalists are not able to publish everything they know. Nevertheless, Al-Sabah Al-Jadeed has set a new standard for newspaper journalism in Iraq, by its exhaustive series of articles discussing the country’s constitution alone.

After a lengthy struggle, Iraq finally has an independent national press agency, a mobile training centre for journalists, and a democratic labour union. This is in part thanks to the efforts of Civil Pillar, a centre that supports new organisations in Iraq. Civil Pillar is a Hivos partner.
Civil Pillar and Al-Sabah Al-Jadeed are currently working together to establish a support fund for independent media. They are doing this because the more than ten television stations, dozens of radio stations and even more daily and weekly newspapers are almost all controlled by either political parties or foreign governments. The fact that the Iraqi population is uninterested in their papers and programmes makes these sugar daddies want to do away with the independents. That any independent media are able to continue can be considered a miracle.