The issues that have plagued Iraq’s political and social history - violence, war, national and international power struggles - are all entrenched in the make up of the country's media landscape today. Following the US invasion of Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority initiated an exercise in encouraging pluralism and diverse ownership across the media landscape with little consideration for the complex political and social context. Fifteen years on, much of the media in Iraq still reflect the ongoing intersecting narratives of ethno-sectarianism, political control, and violence, with a veneer of partisan media ownership masking a culture of fear and self-censorship. Comparative ethnographic research has revealed the struggles of Iraqi journalists to adhere to the norms of professionalism, suggesting that these practices are contributing to and fuelling the on-going context of conflict and violence in Iraq.
Although many Iraqi journalists battle continually with the concept of professional identity, recent policy work and academic research has begun to show that, nonetheless, ‘pockets of civicness’ are emerging within the media landscape. From individual journalists through to media collectives, a number of innovative actors and activists are emerging that are beginning to challenge entrenched assumptions about how the media should behave, in spite of the challenging economic and political environment in which they operate.
This project sought the positive in an arena defined by the negative, exploring opportunities for enabling Iraqis to carve out spaces which can contribute to better journalism and, ultimately, better local and national governance. The concept of civicness was fleshed out with reference to the relationship between media and governance. The project mapped out the media landscape, identifying actual and potential ‘pockets of civicness’, and examining the drivers behind their development. Ultimately, this research project aimed to provide some insight into the complex interaction between political and social conditions, structure, and agency.
This project formed part of the Conflict Research Programme, funded by the UK Department for International Development to provide research and policy advice on how the risk and impact of violent conflict might be more effectively reduced through development and governance interventions.
Aida Al-Kaisy | Principal Investigator
Aida is a Media Reform Advisor and has worked extensively on media development projects across the MENA region including in Iraq, Palestine and Tunisia. She is currently working on a number of projects, focusing on issues related to youth engagement in media, media in conflict, and social cohesion. She is completing a PhD at SOAS, where she also teaches on a part-time basis, on the performance of the media in conflict, using Iraq as a case study.