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Iraqis Explore New Journalism Horizons

By IWPR
  • Iraqi journalists at IWPR's Iraq office in Baghdad take part in a webchat with Al-Jazeera journalist Ayman Mohyeldin, during which they discussed citizen journalism and social media. (Photo: Haider Khudhr/IWPR)
    Iraqi journalists at IWPR's Iraq office in Baghdad take part in a webchat with Al-Jazeera journalist Ayman Mohyeldin, during which they discussed citizen journalism and social media. (Photo: Haider Khudhr/IWPR)

Twenty members of IWPR's journalist network in Iraq have taken part in a webchat with Al-Jazeera English correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin about the growing power of social media and citizen journalism in the Arab world.

Mohyeldin, an Arab-American journalist who covered the revolution in Egypt, explained how these new forms of communication are shaping contemporary events in North Africa and the Middle East and the challenges they pose for traditional journalism.

The IWPR journalists agreed that news organisations need to apply traditional editorial standards such as verifying facts and sources before using information from citizen journalists. Several also argued that citizen journalism, while limited in Iraq, enjoys more trust than Iraq’s party-dominated news organisations.

The March 29 webchat was sponsored by the United States State Department and was broadcast live to audiences across the region, including Egypt, the West Bank and Baghdad.

Mohyeldin said that citizen journalists could fill a gap by providing coverage in areas that reporters can’t reach, but maintained that it was crucial for news organisations to verify information they receive from such sources.

He noted that Al-Jazeera once received footage from a citizen journalist who claimed the video was from Gaza, but it was actually old images from Lebanon.

Mohyeldin is Al-Jazeera’s correspondent in Gaza and is currently on a speaking tour in the US. He uses social media extensively in his reporting and has 33,000 Twitter followers.

According to Mohyeldin, citizen journalism is not yet a threat to mainstream reporting, but could one day challenge and even trump traditional journalism.

“Citizens are no longer just consumers of news, but have become news producers,” he said.

Following Mohyeldin’s talk, IWPR Iraq facilitated a discussion with visiting reporters on citizen journalism and social media in Iraq.

Participants agreed that while both were on the rise, they have limited impact because of the country’s poor electricity supply and low internet penetration. Iraq has by far the lowest internet use in the Middle East, according to the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations agency.

Mobile phones are extensively used in Iraq, however. Iraqi citizens have provided some extremely powerful mobile phone footage, including graphic images of a Yezidi girl being stoned to death in northern Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s hanging in 2006. Both were quickly uploaded onto YouTube.

Ziad al-Ajili, executive director of the Baghdad-based press rights organisation, the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, noted that videos of Saddam’s execution – which included taunts by onlookers - called into question the government’s claims that he had been executed according to procedure.

The journalists, however, agreed that news organisations need to apply traditional editorial standards such as verifying facts and sources before using information from citizen journalists. Several also argued that citizen journalism, while limited in Iraq, enjoys more trust than Iraq’s party-dominated news organisations. 

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