Time for a New Approach to Media

November 2, 2011

When listening to our leaders’ speeches, you would say that they are serious about being part of the new era and are committed to the values of democracy and freedom. But when you watch their media, you’d think that you are in Syria, old Libya or old Iraq.

The reality is somewhere in between, but the media isn’t helping to portraying the realities of our country.

This may seem unfair to the leaders and institutions tasked with running the nation’s affairs, but it is the perception of observers once they spend time in Kurdistan or Iraq. To help us understand why this is happening, it would be useful to look at the lifecycle of news and the environment it grows and dies in.

In preparation for a talk on transparency and media, I combed through a database in search of Iraqi laws that require transparency from our politicians. The word transparency was mentioned four times in the entire Iraqi legal database. The term “right to information” was not mentioned at all and the word “secrecy” appeared over 200 times.

Against the backdrop of legal secrecy that exists in Iraq, talk of transparency and openness becomes merely political or emotional. As a result, the majority of “official” news remains within the confines of: The Leader received, greeted, saluted, visited, inaugurated, laid the foundation stone, etc.

These events are branded as news, while the real news behind the events are, for the most part, totally neglected.

Subsequently, the pro-leader media repeats what came from the office of the official, prioritizing the leader regardless of the event and omitting the more important parts of the report, the bulletin or the newspaper. Meanwhile, the other media neglects the event by just covering one side.

All of this comes at the expense of the public, which does not receive accurate information, and the reputation of the new system that the leaders are bragging about.

But in reality non of this will happen unless a serious process is adopted to move away from the culture of legal secrecy to the a culture of true transparency. The starting point to this is to adopt a modern right to information legislation that makes it a legal duty for any one who is in possession of information to give it to the public.

It is the responsibility of the leaders and their media machines to identify the dangers of having an outdated media policy given the state of the world today. The leaders need to order their media managers to remove them and their pictures from the front page and treat them like any other news item — which is prioritized based on professional editorial standards that only take into account what the public needs to know.
Otherwise, no matter what the leaders say about their views of politics and governance, they will still appear as a remnant of the past in their media.

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