Cablegate: Media in Basrah

DE RUEHBC #0167/01 2990620
R 260620Z OCT 06




E.O. 12958: N/A

BASRAH 00000167 001.2 OF 002

1. (SBU) Summary: Journalists and people involved with media
in Basrah are under constant threat from extremists and
politicians. There is pressure from religious and political
organizations to not report on issues they deem taboo.
Journalists continue to be murdered, but many are willing to
risk their lives to pursue the ideal of freedom of the press.
Very few of the media people have any formal training and learn
the profession on the job. Most Basrawis receive their news via
word of mouth with satellite television the second favorite
source of information. There are only a few local television
and radio stations, and the numerous local newspapers are
published sporadically due to lack of funding. The most popular
television stations in Basrah are al-Iraqia, al-Arabia and
al-Sharqia. The most widely read newspapers are al-Sabah,
al-Zaman, al-Manarah and al-Basrah. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Three years after the fall of the previous regime,
Basrah media is still undeveloped. Poloff met with numerous
Iraqi media contacts to discuss the current state of affairs and
the means by which most citizens obtain news. All contacts
reported that politicians and religious extremists (sometimes
one and the same) apply pressure to journalists and media
representatives to refrain from reporting on issues considered
taboo. Although Salah al-Battat, head of the Basrah Provincial
Council's Media Committee, claimed that the media has 100
percent freedom, he added that the security situation has an
effect on reporting and that reporters could be killed if they
spoke to "the wrong people." Accounts varied on the intensity
of the pressure, but all contacts echoed the belief that
religious and political groups, backed by militias, seek to
influence journalists. The threat against them is high, and
several have been killed in the past year. Many contacts said
that several journalists fled Basrah or Iraq because of threats
against their lives. Jawad Kathim, head of al-Basrah radio
station, told poloff that freedom of the press was developing
very slowly in Basrah, and most contacts reiterated the need to
educate the public on how the media should function.

3. (SBU) According to contacts, the quality of media in Basrah
is not up to general standards, though it is slowly getting
better. Most people working in the media in Basrah have no
formal training and are learning as they work. Dr. Juliana
Dawood, professor at Basrah University and former
Editor-in-Chief of al-Akhbar newspaper, said that Basrah
University does not have any programs or courses related to
media or journalism. Some contacts said that a few
non-governmental organizations offered workshops on media issues
while others reported that they had never heard of any
opportunities for training. Jawad Kathim, manager of al-Basrah
radio station, told poloff that the media does not have any
direct influence on the population unlike in other parts of the
world. The general consensus is that most Basrawis receive
"news" by word of mouth, and satellite television serves as a
secondary source of information.


4. (SBU) Due to the prevalence of satellite dishes, the most
popular television stations in Basrah are al-Iraqia, al-Arabia
and al-Sharqia, according to the contacts poloff spoke with and
corroborated by a recent poll by a British Broadcasting
Corporation (BBC) monitoring unit based in Basrah. There are
two local television stations: al-Basrah, which is part of the
Iraqi National Media network, and al-Naquil, which is run by the
Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Dr.
Dawood stated that most people in Basrah know that al-Jazeera is
a "terrible station," but tune in occasionally to see what is
being said.


5. (U) There are four local radio stations in Basrah.
Al-Basrah radio, like the television station, is part of the
Iraqi National Media network, Shaat al-Arab radio is an
entertainment station, Radio Shinasheel, which is independent,
and a radio station run by SCIRI. Jawad Kathim, head of
al-Basrah, presents two talk show programs weekly on his
station. He said that he always encourages his guests to speak
freely. Mr. Kathim acknowledged that it is dangerous to be so
open, but said he strongly believes in freedom of speech and of
the press and stated that he is protected from any repercussions
because he belongs to a strong tribe.


6. (U) Basrah has over a dozen local newspapers, but very few
of them are printed on a regular basis. According to contacts
and confirmed by the BBC poll, the most popular newspapers in
Basrah are al-Manarah, al-Basrah (newspaper of the provincial
council), al-Zaman and al-Sabah. Most of the local papers are

BASRAH 00000167 002.2 OF 002

printed outside of Basrah due to high printing costs in the
province. Lack of funding is the reason that most papers are
printed so infrequently and sporadically. The papers printed
regularly appear on a weekly basis. In Basrah, newspapers are
distributed to a few shops where they can be purchased or by
subscription. The average cost of a newspaper is 250 ID.


7. Comment: Many reporters and journalists in Basrah are eager
and enthusiastic about their profession even if they lack formal
training. Journalists who aspire to report the news without
censoring their products potentially put their lives in danger.
The basic structure for a nascent free press are sadly absent -
newspapers publish "news" once a week and it is outdated when it
appears, powerful persons influence what is printed or broadcast
and there is no support by the local government for an
uncensored and free media. Support is needed to develop a free
media but Basrah has so many other problems that education and
training on the importance of a free media is far down on
donors' lists. However, civil society in Basrah will not
develop without a free and unfettered media. End Comment.

© Scoop Media

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