Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Iraq: Sept ‘09
IWPR Iraq is producing a television news magazine show that educates citizens on human rights and provides a platform for activists and political leaders to debate and problem-solve issues.
Led by IWPR’s experienced producers and directors, a network of more than three dozen reporters and television professionals are contributing to two human rights-focused shows – one in Arabic from Baghdad, and a Kurdish show which is expected to launch next month in Sulaimaniyah.
The half-hour episodes are produced and broadcast separately for maximum impact, with the aim of raising awareness about human rights issues for the public.
Sawat Ghaleb, the Arabic show’s director and a seasoned Iraqi-German television journalist, who has worked for top German news outlets, said the show is unique because it is dedicated entirely to human rights issues.
“We want to sensitise people to human rights,” he said. “If people start talking about it in a country like Iraq, where human rights are being violated every day, then we've really accomplished something.”
Iraqi news channels typically “include human rights issues as only a small part of their programme”, he said. “They don’t delve deep enough and they tend to approach issues in a very conservative way.”
IWPR’s show “tells people’s real stories and explains the reality of the situation throughout Iraq”, he added.
The Arabic-language episodes, which have been airing on Iraq’s Al-Hurriya television since July, have tackled issues such as rights for people with disabilities, children, women and press freedoms. The episodes include features that tell stories of ordinary Iraqis followed by round-table discussions by leading experts.
One episode featured women working in a brick factory in Karbala who are trying to make ends meet after getting divorced. The episode raised questions about whether Iraq’s legal system is fair to female divorcees.
Another episode focused on child labour, featuring children who worked in car mechanics’ shops in Baghdad.
Guests have included prominent Iraqis, such as Muwafaq al-Khafagi, head of the Iraqi Handicapped Organisation and Tariq al-Harb, one of Iraq’s most influential lawyers.
The September episode dealt with labour rights and Iraqis economic concerns.
The Kurdish episodes are expected to begin airing on Kurdish television news channels in November.
Horen Gharib, a veteran television journalist who serves as senior producer and trainer for the Kurdish television magazine show, said IWPR Iraq’s episodes are unique in northern Iraq.
“We are trying to be fair and to show more than one point of view,” he said. “Here, most of the media outlets are pro-government and the others are just critical. In our features, we try to be fair and balanced.”
Gharib said the show heavily features personal stories – a type of journalism that is not often employed in Kurdish television. Human rights are not widely covered by Kurdish broadcast media and are only raised in formal discussions among experts, he said. IWPR Iraq’s programme shows how rights issues affect average citizens, Gharib said.
Some of the biggest beneficiaries of the show have been the journalists themselves, who are better educated on human rights issues and can therefore press political leaders on these topics.
Reporters’ skills are also improving, and they have a clearer understanding of how to report on human rights and feature average citizens, Ghaleb said.
Also in September, an IWPR-trained reporter published a journalism textbook based on his training with IWPR.
The book, called The Story, was written by Frman Abdulrahman, a senior Kurdish newspaper editor and an IWPR-trained journalist who has frequently contributed to IWPR’s Iraq output.
The forward was written by IWPR Syria country director Susanne Fischer, who served as Iraq’s country director from 2005 to 2008. IWPR’s courses, editors and trainers are credited throughout the book.
The book incorporates theories and lessons taught by IWPR, including principles of fairness and balance as well as practical skills such as reporting techniques and structuring stories.
Abdulrahman, who studied media at university, credits IWPR with teaching him professional journalism standards.
Aside from manuals such as those created by IWPR, the only media textbooks available in Kurdish are translated from Farsi, Arabic or English. Abdulrahman said he wanted to write a book specifically for Kurdish journalists and media students.
Those who “haven’t had the chance to attend one of IWPR’s training course can still benefit by reading the book”, he said.
Abdulrahman said students at the University of Sulaimaniyah are already using the book as a reference and are pushing the media department to include the text in its curriculum.
And in another development, a photojournalist, inspired by IWPR’s flagship elections newspaper, Metro, has launched his own photo agency in Sulaimaniyah.
Kamaran Najm opened Metrography studio in September. Metrography “is a place for photographers to sell their work and to expose [people from] different parts of Iraq to each other through photography”, Najm said.
Metro newspaper published elections-related news during this year’s provincial council and Kurdish parliamentary elections. Najm said he first came up with the idea for Metrography while working on Metro and that IWPR has since trained Metrography staffers.
“We’ve really benefited from IWPR,” he said.
The agency is working with 43 Iraqi photojournalists – many of them IWPR trainees – to collect and sell photos nationwide. Najm said he aims to break down the invisible barriers between Iraqi Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq by publishing photography that reflects life and news from throughout the country.
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