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

Iraq: Jan ‘09

Commentators say IWPR publication and radio show helped to bolster election coverage.
IWPR Iraq’s Metro newspaper and radio show provided much needed comprehensive and impartial coverage of Iraq’s provincial elections in January, say Iraqi analysts and journalists.

Metro, a 16-page daily paper in Arabic and Kurdish, was distributed nationwide from January 21 to February 10. The paper and a daily Arabic-language radio show, which aired from January 20 to February 10, were launched in cooperation with the Iraqi news organisations Radio Nawa and Voices of Iraq.

The projects are part of IWPR Iraq’s initiative to develop local media, and offered Iraqis in-depth coverage of the January 31 provincial election, the first such poll in Iraq in four years.

Metro reported on election news for the 14 provinces that elected provincial councils – Iraq’s local governments – focusing in particular on the southern provinces, where Shia parties ran fiercely competitive campaigns, as well as troubled Sunni provinces such as Anbar and Mosul.

In addition, it addressed the difficulties illiterate, destitute and disabled voters faced when going to the polls, and the paper circulated simplified, easy-to-read voter guidelines based on the Iraqi electoral commission’s voter instructions.

Abdullah al-Jibouri, a political analyst in Kirkuk, described Metro as a “very neutral” and “daring” daily that “conveyed the opinion of all parties”. He said the title was both informative and gave voters a voice.

Hadi Jello Mar'ee, a Baghdad writer and analyst, said, “It was a brave attempt to cover the different viewpoints of Iraq’s diverse society. Metro reached out to the rural towns and villages –
democracy is a necessity, not exclusive to cities.”

Omar al-Hadithi, a reporter with state-run Al-Sabah newspaper, was also impressed with Metro’s geographic range, “No other newspaper was so dedicated or provided such a detailed description of every province that this newspaper covered.”

Raghd al-Suhail, from the Culture For All Association, an NGO, whose main mission is to fight illiteracy and extend education/culture to rural areas, singled out the publication’s educative role.

“Metro brought an educational angle with an honest coverage of news. We need such publications. I read it with a critical eye and tried to find journalistic flaws - I must say, I did not find any,” he said.

The Metro radio show also covered election news and provided insight into voters’ lives.

One story in Baghdad highlighted how little Iraqis knew about the elections – many believed voters were choosing parliamentary or presidential candidates rather than local representatives.

Several of Metro’s radio shows looked at Iraq’s internally displaced citizens. Those who registered with the election commission were able to cast ballots for provincial councils in their home provinces, but many felt discouraged about politics.

Yasin al-Rubaie, a veteran IWPR-trained journalist who heads Radio Nawa’s Arabic programming, said, “The displaced said the radio show encouraged them to vote, even though they were planning to boycott. They also said that Metro, with its information and interviews with officials, informed them about [news] in other provinces from the far south to the north”.

Rubaie said Metro was a much needed source of information for Iraqi voters, many of whom knew little about candidates or the electoral process. The reports were unique because they were drawn from all over Iraq – including villages and rural areas – and gave the public a platform to discuss the elections and an array of election-related issues, Rubaie said.