The Perils of Supporting Certain Media Outlets

May 21, 2012

The saga over Chirpa magazine publishing the remarks of a nobody against religious symbols should serve as a wakeup call to those who support obscure media for the sake of one day using it for their own purposes.

Those who felt insulted by the remarks should not blame the paper or even the writer. They should blame the people who funded such an amateur and obscure publication.

Those who have extra money to spare today should think twice before investing in the media for political purposes. They should realize that, in today’s connected world, this is one of the most dangerous ventures, especially if it is done secretly.

In most cases, the power created by the investment ends up in the wrong hands. The scenario, as we have seen in Kurdistan and other parts of the world, is usually that the media is at first used as a tool in the hands of the investor, then the editor takes control and, when they all lose interest, the journalist who publishes the stories takes control of the pages and the airwaves. By then the outlet is close to being shut down, as was the case with Chirpa.

This scenario is generally true for most secret investments, because accountability only exists when the investor is interested in the work and purpose of the media outlet.

It is even truer when the people trusted with the investment are those who have a political or personal agenda or have no clue about the media.

Chirpa’s case is one of many time bombs in the media market. Supporting any of these is playing with fire. Some outlets are already at the stage where the junior journalist is in control of the pages or the airwaves. In a recent case of clear defamation, the paper that published the report asked for money from the defamed person to publish his response. This is not journalism. This is gangsterism.

So what is the most appropriate way to promote good media in a place like Iraqi Kurdistan?

In the absence of a regulatory and legal framework for a public service broadcaster, the only way forward for the media is private investment; but investment that is transparent and for the purpose of providing a service to make financial gains, not political ones. Even if the investment is for political purposes, it can be regulated through a proper framework.

Existing media laws in the region operate with an attitude of suspicion towards the media and its sources of funding. This is because most of those behind the laws fund a media outlet in one way or the other.

The Chirpa case should be used as an opportunity to regulate investment in media, not curb freedom of expression.

The Kurdistan Region is evolving in many fields, but the media does not reflect that progress. The way things are now, opening an outlet is a problem, and closing it another.

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