Iraq: Dec '10 / Jan '11

Prize awarded for story revealing thefts of treasures from national museum.

Iraq: Dec '10 / Jan '11

Prize awarded for story revealing thefts of treasures from national museum.

Friday, 18 February, 2011

An IWPR-trained journalist has been awarded a press courage prize for an investigative report exposing alleged antiques smuggling from the Iraqi museum in Baghdad, which led to the firing of the museum’s manager.

Baghdad-based reporter Khalid Waleed, an IWPR trainee since 2010, won last month’s the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, JFO, award for online investigative reporting.

JFO, which was founded by IWPR staff and trainees, is a leading Iraqi press freedom organisation that created the annual awards with another media development NGO IREX in 2010 to honour and encourage local investigative reporting in print, radio, television and online media.

Five awards were given to Iraq journalists who showed courage, professionalism and neutrality in exposing corruption and human rights abuses. Their work was reviewed by a panel of journalism experts including top Iraqi media professors.

Waleed’s story revealed evidence that Iraqi antiquities were being smuggled from the national museum to Sulaimaniyah in northern Iraq and from there out of the country, including a rare copy of the Torah that was allegedly taken to Israel. Parliament’s integrity committee also reported that the museum had registered nearly 30,000 pieces that could not be found. Following the report, the museum’s manager was dismissed and is under investigation for corruption.

Waleed has received extensive one-on-one mentoring from IWPR’s national and international editors and has attended IWPR’s courses on editorial and safety skills. The skills he has gained through his association with IWPR, he says, have helped him build a successful career as a Baghdad-based radio reporter. He also freelances for online outlets including IWPR and Al-Sumaria, which published his award-winning story in October 2010.

“I owe a lot to IWPR for providing me with guidance,” he said. “I’ve learned about structuring stories, developing story ideas and checking sources. This award will absolutely motivate me to reveal more cases of corruption and identify weaknesses in government offices.”

Waleed said the skills he learnt at IWPR training sessions were put into practice in preparing the award-winning story, which involved researching Iraq’s antiquities online; verifying sources and ensuring all of them were on the record; finding documents to back up the smuggling claims; and outlining the story before writing it. Waleed said while the investigation was difficult, he managed to obtain more than 60 documents supporting the smuggling claims.

Abeer Mohammed, IWPR's senior local editor, who has mentored Waleed at IWPR’s Baghdad offices and over the phone, said he’s “the best Iraqi correspondent I have worked with”.

Mohammed said Waleed’s curiosity drives him to “always seek new information. He never gets tired of asking and researching”.

JFO chairman and former IWPR trainee Ziad Al-Ajili said that he founded the awards to encourage journalists to produce hard-hitting stories in the face of threats and intimidation.

“Courses and training sessions have definitely encouraged many IWPR trainees to investigate and research enterprising stories,” he said. “Teaching basic and in-depth reporting skills so that journalists can get the whole story pushes journalists to dig deeper and investigate.”

Fifty journalists submitted entries for the JSO award. Prizes were also awarded to Ali Khalif of Al-Arabiya television channel for his investigation into stolen computers; Ahmad al-Rubaei, whose report for Nineveh’s Iraqiyoon newspaper revealed that funds to manage hospital waste were stolen; Ziad Nihad of the Al-Hurra satellite channel for his report on the torture and killing of a prison detainee; and Raji Naseer, also from Al-Hurra, for his report on corruption on Najaf schools.

Farah Ali is an IWPR Iraq editorial coordinator. She is based in Baghdad.

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