Balanced Press Reporting of Iraqi Elections

IWPR newspaper produced during elections in Iraqi Kurdistan wins praise for balance and presentation.

Balanced Press Reporting of Iraqi Elections

IWPR newspaper produced during elections in Iraqi Kurdistan wins praise for balance and presentation.

Friday, 25 September, 2009

Journalists and observers have welcomed a daily newspaper produced by IWPR to coincide with this summer’s elections in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Metro, a 16-page tabloid, was produced over a span of 20 days around the July 25 election.

Eighty journalists and more than 25 photojournalists, drawn from more than 16 independent and party media outlets in the region, worked on the project. IWPR trained the journalists for three days before the launch.

Over 25,000 copies of the paper were printed daily for distribution across the region, which has an electorate of just over two million people.

Two editions of each paper were produced, catering to the Sorani and Kirmanji dialects of Kurdish. The Kirmanji edition of Metro is believed to be the first daily newspaper in the dialect.

The paper was praised for its balanced coverage and attractive design.

Wrya Hama-Tahir, a journalist who worked on Metro as a feature editor, said the paper stood out from the rest of the region’s press.

“Metro is new in Kurdish journalism, especially in terms of its form. There is nothing like it among the other newspapers,” he said, adding that its use of photography was particularly distinctive.

“Metro reported on the elections objectively and paid close attention to all sides of the debate, using a variety of different sources,” Hama-Tahir said.

Awat Ali, a journalist who worked as an editor on the project, said Metro was unusual in combining the form “of a newspaper and a magazine”.

“Working for Metro was a new experience in journalism. It was impartial. All sides had the right to appear in the paper,” he said.

Hiwa Osman, Metro’s editor-in-chief, said all the published content had been rigorously checked by several editors.

“Metro sought to prove that Kurdish media can work shoulder to shoulder with the global press, achieving the same high standard and avoiding political affiliation,” he said.

“By leaving no space for journalists’ personal opinions, the paper tried to provide a trustworthy source of news for officials and voters.”

Leaders from both the major political groups praised Metro – but also accused it of being biased in favour of their opponents.

Kwestan Mohammed, a deputy from the opposition Change list, said she had kept up with every edition of Metro. “The presentation was good and the text and photos were of a high quality. Metro was really following things up.”

Independent, private newspapers such as Metro were “necessary for the democratic experiment” in Kurdistan, where most of the media was controlled by political parties, Mohammed said.

Although Metro had avoided bias for “90 per cent” of the time, she said it had on occasion shown it was inclined towards the incumbent Kurdistani list.

Salar Mahmoud, a member of parliament from the Kurdistani list, complimented Metro staff for their “hard work” in having produced a well-designed, high-quality publication.

However, he said Metro had “obviously” supported the opposition by giving its views greater coverage.

“Neutrality is difficult to preserve in such a situation but Metro must do so to maintain its credibility,” he said.

Other commentators said the paper had managed to remain impartial.

The fact that accusations of bias in Metro had been made by both the major political lists indicated its impartiality, journalist Ako Mohammed said.

Mohammed, a writer for Awene newspaper and Lvin magazine, both regarded as independent, said Metro’s balance had been crucial for its success.

“Metro printed the views of all the sides,” he said. “Unfortunately in Kurdistan, when you publish a truth which is not in somebody’s favour, they will accuse you of bias,” he said.

Ali Kareem, the head of the Kurdistan Institute of Human Rights, said Metro’s coverage was balanced and attractive.

While he felt the paper should have paid more attention to outbreaks of violence during the election period, he praised it for its reporting from rural Kurdistan. “Metro was not a downtown newspaper, it also paid attention to remote areas,” he said.

Kareem said he would have liked to have seen the production of Metro continue beyond the election period so that it “turned into an institution”.

As well as the Metro newspaper, IWPR produced a half-hour long daily radio show over the course of the Kurdish elections. The show, which was broadcast by radio stations in the region, sourced its news coverage from the network of Metro reporters.

The latest Metro project followed the success of an earlier version of the paper that was produced during Iraqi provincial council elections in January. IWPR collaborated with Aswat al-Iraq news agency and Radio Nawa in its coverage of that election. The previous Metro was produced in Arabic and in Kurdish and distributed nationwide throughout Iraq.

Azeez Mahmood in an IWPR-trained journalist in Sulaimaniyah.

Iraqi Kurdistan, Iraq
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