TV Is a Crucial Information Source for Iraqis
The first State Department poll in Iraq indicates that most urban Iraqis have only local television networking, though a third overall have satellite access. Given this current situation, the Iraq Media Network (IMN) has wide reach and a significant following, but findings suggest that its influence will likely be rivaled as satellite dishes become more widespread.
The seven-city survey of urban Iraqis shows that local Iraqi television (62%) is by far the most frequently relied upon medium for acquiring information and news about Iraq. 26% rely on foreign television for news about their country, while much smaller percentages look to other information sources, such as Iraqi newspapers (5%), Iraqi radio (2%), foreignradio (2%), or discussions with family and friends (1%).
Nearly all (93%) Iraqis report owning a television, and about a third (33%) have access to a satellite dish either at home, a friend’s residence, or at work; two-thirds (62%) report that they have no satellite access at all.
Satellite access is most prevalent among Iraqis with a secondary-level education or higher, in a likely reflecting a degree of affluence. Significantly, post-college graduates are three times more likely to have access to satellite television than those with a primary education or lower.
Across Iraq, majorities in the northern cities of Erbil (73%) and Suleymania (60%) report access to satellite television, while half (55%) do in Ramadi. Only a third indicate access in Baghdad (32%) or Najaf (27%), and just 7 percent do in Basrah.
A first look at the status of the new US-supported IMN shows that a substantial majority (83%) of Iraqis can receive the IMN without difficulty. Penetration levels are widest in Baghdad, Ramadi, Fallujah, Najaf, and Basrah, where between 74 and 95 percent receive IMN. By contrast, station coverage is far lower in the Kurdish-dominated north (Suleymania 26%; Erbil 9%).
When asked to select from a list the one station they relied on the most for news about events concerning Iraq, a plurality (36%) of the survey public overall turns to IMN. However, IMN viewership clearly differs according to satellite access.
The Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) comes to a rather different conclusion about the effectiveness of the coalition’s media efforts compared to Washington’s. A report from IWPR’s Country Director, Maggy Zanger, in Arbil says: “The CPA’s media outlet, the Iraq Media Network, renamed Al-Iraqiya, is present and as irrelevant to Kurds as it is to other Iraqis.”
BBC among bidders for Iraqi media contract
Bids are due in by the end of November to take over the running of the Iraqi Media Network (IMN). With less than three weeks to go, five serious bidders have emerged. One is the BBC, which through its World Service Trust has already been training Iraqi broadcasters. However, it suspended the training a few weeks ago amid worsening security in Iraq. London-based Independent Television News is also expected to submit a bid; Others said to be interested are the Rendon Group, which has worked on previous US “public diplomacy” efforts; the Harris Group; and the Lebanese Broadcasting Company.
The contract is a major one, valued at $100 million. In involves completely rebuilding the broadcasting infrastructure which was destroyed in the two Gulf Wars, as well as providing “comprehensive, accurate, fair, and balanced news,” instilling a “code of ethics” in Iraqi journalists, and becoming self-supporting by the end of 2004.
Media Guardian reports that Britain’s Independent Television News (ITN) is preparing to bid for a contract to run a TV news channel in Iraq. The Coalition Provisional Authority has advertised a contract worth $10m (about 8.7m euros) over two years. ITN currently has a team in Baghdad assessing the contract. According to Media Guardian, it’s is likely that ITN would enter a consortium with a US engineering firm. That’s because ITN would need a big company to help restore the transmission infrastructure, and most of the reconstruction contracts are being awarded to US firms.
BBC media training on hold
ANKARA, 29 September (IRIN) – The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) World Service Trust has put its activities on hold in Iraq temporarily due to deteriorating security. “We are really waiting for security to improve and we would have to see NGOs go back in first before we move in again,” projects director for the BBC World Service Trust, Tim Williams, told IRIN from London on Monday.
However, one radio programme entitled ‘calling Iraq’ is continuing. Six journalists trained in Baghdad straight after the war are providing material to be broadcast on the programme, which is transmitted from London.
Since the end of the war, the BBC has trained 100 journalists in south central Iraq and conducted a one week training course in conjunction with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) introducing children to radio. “This project has been put on hold for the time being,” he said.
The trust has carried out two surveys of the Iraqi broadcast media firstly in April in the southern cities of Basra, Umm Qasr and Amara followed by another on the south central cities of Baghdad, Hilla, Najaf and Karbala in June. The surveys found that the process of developing a strategy for the rebuilding of the Iraqi media was just getting underway.
“We felt that despite the bombing and disappearance of the entire management there were pockets of people who were trying to set up the
media and trying to provide local information,” Williams said, adding that there was a clear need to rebuild management. The report underscored the security situation: “Baghdad is still in chaos and security in the city is a constant worry”.
Under the regime of Saddam Hussein, the media was state controlled and
satellite dishes were banned. However, a new free media is emerging with international support.
At present Iraqi Media Network TV and radio programmes are being prepared and pre-recorded in facilities in the Convention Centre near the headquarters of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). They are physically taken to the TV and FM radio transmitter site some two km away so they can be aired. With 10 reporters and a staff of 50 in Baghdad only, the TV station broadcasts for up to 12 hours per day. The
same reporters also work for radio.
According to the survey findings, Iraqis all over the country had high broadcast engineering skills. However, production and editorial skills were poor.
In south central Iraq, the findings were encouraging: “The presence of enthusiastic, determined people working to set up radio and TV stations in post offices and relay stations owned by the former broadcaster led to the conclusion that opportunities in this region for supporting the emergence of an indigenous independent media are very good”. However,
the document pinpointed that there was a need to encourage more women into the media in this region.
In the southern city of Basra, former senior employees of the Iraqi TV station were working from the local football stadium where they added an antenna to one of the floodlight rigs and connected the feeder cables to a one kiloWatt transmitter salvaged from the main complex.
However, Williams noted overall that Iraqis were in need of support in the media industry. “There was a sense that people were waiting to be told what to do and weren’t sure that they could do it themselves,” he explained.
The survey findings also made reference to the CPA’s involvement in rebuilding the media industry: “While CPA officials of all kinds insist they want to foster a free independent and responsible media that will be at the centre of the democratisation process in Iraq, at the moment they are too busy trying to convince Iraqis of their good intentions and getting public information announcements on the airwaves”.
Commenting on the news values of Iraqi journalists, he said: “When it comes to news Iraq is definitely a country run by rumour. One of the dangers for any media organisation is that it will have to deal with the rumour mill.”
He explained that there was a concern that these rumours could be manipulated by the wrong people to be used to their advantage.
“Audiences are provided with both information and rumour,” he remarked.
“People have to deal with irrational thoughts and fears as well as dealing with the day to day issues and problems,” he added.
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