On 24-25 October 2021, the Erich Brost Institute for International Journalism in Germany and Mena Media Monitoring, based in Tunisia, organized a 1,5-day online workshop entitled “Exploring the potential of media accountability in Iraq”. The project was financed with the support of the Federal German Foreign Office.
More than 30 participants, including journalism educators, journalists, editors in chief, representatives of civil society organizations, members of the National Human Rights Commission as well as trainers from the Middle East and North Africa region participated in the workshop to discuss the challenges and needs of implementing media accountability in Iraq. Existing challenges for media freedom (Iraq is ranking 163 out of 180 countries, according to the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index 2021) include the imprisonment of journalists based on outdated penal code laws, currently missing laws on free access to information and draft bills related to hostile cybercrime laws, the weak role of journalists syndicates as watchdogs of media freedom, and a high level of militia and state interference into daily journalistic work. Yet, it was stated that “the time is right to start a dialogue on media accountability between the government, the media, judiciary, CSOs and academia to support relevant changes on each and every level related to media freedom in Iraq.”
The high misusage of hate speech in the public sphere, alongside with media being divided in existing sectarianism structures revealed in the discussions that a credible mediatory and self- regulatory complaints mechanism for ethical breaches is currently missing and that the time is right to enforce a dialogue on how to set-up such a mechanism within the media itself. Ahmed Kato, Head of the National Organization for Diversity and Minorities, explained the need for implementing Media Accountability, especially in the case of reporting on ethnic minorities and to enable citizens and journalists to address to a mediatory and credible self- regulatory body all hate speech abuses that vulnerable groups are exposed to as a result of unprofessional media coverage. The Director of the National Human Rights Commission, Dr. Wisam Kathim, stated: “Our institution is as an independent body open to all complaints in regards to Human Rights abuses, including also media.” Best practice examples, such as the successful implementation of ombudspeople as mediators in 13 media outlets in Tunisia, have been introduced to the participants by the presentation of Narjess Mkhinini, the ombudswoman of the private radio station Radio Jawhara FM in Tunisia, who shared her experience at the workshop with the participants and opened new perspectives for similar effective activities in Iraq. Dr Masroor Mohialdeen, the Commissioner for Human Rights in Iraq, emphasized: “Tunisia due to its successful experiences should have a leading role in training Media Accountability in Iraq and the MENA Region.”
Dr. Habeeb Ibrahim, Assistant Professor at the Institute for Media Studies at the Ruhr-Bochum University and author of the Iraq chapter of the Erich Brost Institute’s pilot study “Media Accountability in the MENA Region”, provided an overview of the state of play related to applied and missing media accountability instruments in Iraq. The experience of the press council in Bosnia and Herzegovina with its well implemented interconnection with CSOs, government, academia and judiciary presented by the Erich Brost Institute for International Journalism’s MENA Programme Manager, Isabella Kurkowski, was initializing a fruitful discussion among the participants to enforce a future dialogue with government and judiciary, expressing the existing needs of media workers and citizens. Dr. Radwan Badini as well as Mr. Fared Hassan explained that such a dialogue should take place in Iraq and that “we need to work hand in hand to foster independent media and transparency in Iraq – we need independent and experienced media people in the right institutions in order to develop a joint model of media accountability”.
In different working group sessions, the distinguished participants developed a road map for media accountability in Iraq with overall 24 recommendations: Participants from different backgrounds agreed on the need to support the dialogue between the government, the media, judiciary, CSOs and academia by organizing an annual media accountability conference that brings together all the stakeholders in one place in order to discuss the current needs and challenges of media accountability, and which makes the government aware of the importance of media accountability as part of the democratic transformation.
Renowned journalism educators from different universities and media institutes in Iraq stressed on “the grave ethical breaches in media content” and expressed the need to educate also qualified trainers in media accountability in order to sensitize all relevant stakeholders such as media, journalists, governmental representatives, judiciary and citizens. Dr. Irada Al- Jubouri from the College of Media at the University of Baghdad expressed the urgent need to include the subject of Media Accountability in the university curricula of journalism education in Iraq.
Participating journalists also evoked the problem of security of journalists who are subjected to physical threats and assassinations by armed militia groups as well as to the repression and imprisonment due to the absence of a legislation that can protect journalists as well as their right to access information. The currently weak role of journalism syndicates as watchdogs of journalists’ rights was highlighted constantly. The recommendation was given that journalists’ syndicates should have a more active role in enforcing media accountability structures in Iraq. They could play a relevant role by supporting the development of a joint and credible code of ethics in Iraq to which all media should adhere.