Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Event Shows How New Media Can Shape Iraqi Democracy

Joint IWPR-IREX conference highlights the important role information technology could play in the country’s development.
By Tiare Rath

Participants in a groundbreaking conference on new media, sponsored by IWPR and IREX, have said it served to highlight information technology’s vital role in supporting the country’s nascent democracy.

Government officials, civil society leaders and journalists attending the pioneering event - entitled Emerging Technologies, Emerging Democracies - said it provided an essential guide on how new technology can be used to disseminate information and support advocacy efforts.

The conference explored issues such as the right to access information, social media and new media’s role in facilitating dialogue between the government and citizens.

“I learned a lot,” Adil Matloob, adviser to the minister of science and technology, said. “It was the first time I’ve had the opportunity to hear from the organisations that work very closely with citizens in the information and media sectors. Our goal is to provide services, so this conference has been a great lesson on what areas need our attention.”

Matloob opened the final day of the gathering by unveiling the government’s national plan for electronic governance.

The September 27-28 Erbil conference brought together 120 international experts, civil society representatives, journalists and Iraqi officials. Following the event, IWPR will launch a website devoted to Iraq’s emerging electronic media.

“The conference was an important event which enabled dialogue on this new world of media and transparency and how it can be applied in Iraq. As the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) we were extremely pleased with the positive feedback we received on our KRG IT strategy,” Botan Mahmoud Osman, head of the KRG’s IT department, said.

“The discussions highlighted our belief that the internet should be open, accessible and a basic right for all citizens of Iraq.”

IREX and IWPR will hold another conference on information technology for senior officials next year, and have been asked to advise the Iraqi government in shaping access to information and electronic media policies.

“What I hope the participants took away from these two days is an appreciation that digital media can help to safeguard democracy, and not just in Iraq; this is true in even the most developed countries. It can bring hope,” Ammar al-Shahbandar, chief of mission for IWPR Iraq, said.

“What we really discussed here is how to update or upgrade Iraqi society, and how to use the tools of new technology to improve advocacy, journalism and government.”

IREX Iraq country director Jacky Sutton said the conference sought to stimulate demand for internet freedoms, and build public pressure for free and accessible information.

The conference opened with a keynote address from respected BBC journalist Nik Gowing and followed by seminars, panel discussions and training sessions.

There were talks on libel and copyright laws as well as discussions of mobile platforms and content delivery. Training sessions were held on subjects ranging from Twitter and blogging, to how technology can engage marginalised communities.

Conference participants and panellists – including officials responsible for designing and implementing IT and information security in Iraq – debated infrastructure development and the right to access information.

Tiare Rath is IWPR Iraq’s editorial manager. 

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