A fraudster and some ignorant and malicious media workers are shaping Kurdistan’s freedom of expression

August 22, 2010

If doctors, engineers, lawyers or members of other professions make mistakes, they are barred from practicing their occupations and their licenses are revoked.
But luckily enough for our media and government employees, these requirements are not applied to them.
Government and media workers are neither accountable nor sackable. In fact, they may be quite similar in many ways.
I often hear our politicians asking: What makes someone a journalist?
I also hear them answer their own question: Well, anyone can be a journalist if they are prepared to swear at the establishment. The best journalist is one who most eloquently insults high-ranking leaders and officials.
Journalists on the other hand ask: What makes someone a government official?
They answer their own question: Anyone can become a government official if they are loyalists of the right person in the right party.
On the face of it, this relationship seems like a formula that some can live with. But in reality it is harming the public and insulting their intelligence.
The last couple of weeks provided good examples as to how this relationship is failing.
If there was an award for the worst media performance, it would have been given to pro- and anti-government media jointly.
To those who don’t know, here is what happened: A magazine called Lvin published an interview with an individual, Qani Fard, who claims to be a historian earning his PhD at Harvard. He made all kinds of allegations against the Kurdish movement’s history and leadership.
He based these claims on alleged documents from Iranian and other countries’ intelligence services, yet provided no documentation to support the accusations.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party was immediately up in arms about the claims and started a campaign against Lvin, stretching from the pages of its newspapers to the pulpit of mosques. This was exactly what Lvin wanted: The interview was clearly published to trigger this controversy and boost the paper’s sales — nothing else.
A professional and reputable media outlet that cares about its professional and business reputation would take allegations such as these very seriously. They would conduct an internal investigation first and then determine what went wrong and form a position based on their findings.
A professional outlet would usually issue an apology if what they wrote was incorrect, or would stand by every word they wrote if they discovered that their article held water. Lvin’s immediate reaction was a ready-made email to everyone saying “Our lives are in danger.”
It did not take a colleague of mine 30 minutes to find out that Qani Fard has never attended Harvard. Nor has he earned a PhD at Cambridge, as his Wikipedia page claims. Nor did his name show up in any Australian university.
In the case of Xebat and other pro government outlets, they simply published anti-Lvin statements threatening the magazine without verifying the source or looking into the repercussions of it.
So this is what we’re left with: A fraudster of the present and the past, along with several ignorant and malicious media workers, nearly caused another PR disaster for the Kurdistan region.
Each one’s motives were clear: The fraudster wanted to get as many Google hits as possible, while those in the malicious and ignorant camp wanted to sell as many papers as possible and to please their party bosses.
This is all at the expense of freedom of expression in the region.
Our media is a reflection of our politics. “Our politicians are corrupt”, said one journalist, “and so are we”.
But this need not be the case. While politicians may be forced to reform because of electoral pressure, the media is under more pressure to self-regulate.
The fact of the matter is that neither the politics nor the media in Iraqi Kurdistan are regulated. This leaves both with the difficult task of regulating themselves.
I believe that if there is a strong will to develop a healthy media, each sector of society needs to play a role in implementing reforms.
For the media: If the information a source is giving does not make sense, investigate further. If it still does not make sense, don’t use it.
For the politicians: If a headline does not make sense, ignore it — they want you to react. If you have to react, react directly by writing to the media outlet. The aim of this is to correct the error and raise journalistic standards. If the media outlet does not respond, then ignore them.
For the public: If a headline does not make sense, pick up the newspaper and read the first line or two of the report. If you still aren’t convinced, put the paper down. Do not buy it; try to make it unsellable. Do not even talk about it to your friends.

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