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<nettime> Supporting Iraqi Radio Journalists (interview with Anja Wollen
Geert Lovink on Fri, 19 May 2006 09:52:06 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Supporting Iraqi Radio Journalists (interview with Anja Wollenberg)


Supporting Iraqi Radio Journalists
Interview with Anja Wollenberg, Media in Cooperation & Transition  
(Berlin/Amman)
By Geert Lovink

Media in Cooperation & Transition (MICT) is a Berlin-based organization  
that was founded in late 2004 out of a radio program that was conducted  
as Iraqi German cooperation (TELEPHONE FM, by streamminister) and that  
was broadcasted in Baghdad. With an emphasis on cooperation, mixing  
Internet streaming technology with old school radio techniques MICT is  
running media projects ever since with Iraqi partners in Iraq,  
addressing an Iraqi audience. MICT-projects have a focus on the  
political process in Iraq, respectively the elections and the  
constitutional process in the last year. MICT is run by Klaas  
Glenewinkel an Anja Wollenberg and could be considered a sister  
organization of Streamtime, the support campaign for Iraqi bloggers, in  
which I am involved, with, in fact, equally strong roots in radio and  
streaming. This interview could be read as a follow-up of the one I did  
with Streamtime member Cecile Landman, earlier this year  
(http://www.networkcultures.org/weblog/archives/2006/01/ 
support_iraqi_b.html#more).

GL: Your website looks slick and corporate. Yet, there can't be a more  
unglamorous place to work than Iraq. It seems such a big contrast. How  
do you deal with this? Free and independent radios and newspapers in  
Iraq seem to be involved in such a heroic and titanic struggle.

AW: In Iraq today you will find a high degree on plurality in the media  
landscape, professionalism in reporting has increased dramatically,  
governmental censorship has vanished and the right to free speech is  
generally given, although seriously damaged by the growing lack of  
protection for journalists. But independency is definitely missing. It  
has not developed yet in the field of media. There is no market, no  
market research, no legal framework. Instead media in Iraq are with  
almost no exception partisan and biased. In lack of a market they  
depend on donors and donors are rarely free of interest when it comes  
to the Iraqi situation.

>From my point of view the current struggle in Iraq is in the first  
place not about freedom, democracy or independence. It is primarily  
about power and its redistribution. The political conflicts revolve  
around this, the constitutional process did revolve around this, the  
elections do and the media are hopelessly and actively involved in this  
process of redistribution. Independency is lip service in Iraq today.

It will only become reality in the framework of an according law, on  
the ground of an emerging market and a less fragile power situation.  
But from what I understood the Iraqi user, reader, viewer is quite  
capable to differentiate. As media users Iraqis derive from a tradition  
of political propaganda. Not trust but distrust in media is the common  
attitude. In general they tend to make use of different media sources  
including foreign Broadcasters such as Al-Jazeera, Radio Monte Carlo  
and BBC World.

How do we deal with contrast? The 50 team-members we worked with in the  
last year came from 5 different countries and were located in 3  
different places (Amman, Iraq and Germany). Contradicting views and  
environments were an essential part of our daily work. Therefore the  
structure of cooperation, the culture of communication and the design  
of the editorial workflows gradually adapted to the need for creating  
common perspectives with those involved on a daily basis. That is a  
challenge, indeed.

GL: Over the past year or so you have been giving media trainings in  
Amman, Jordan to Iraqi radio journalists. What have your experiences  
been so far?

AW: The participants for the trainings we do are mostly the  
correspondents for the media-projects we run. Trainings are embedded in  
an ongoing cooperation and they are usually combined with a workshop  
where we discuss concept and content for the upcoming program with the  
correspondents. This has always been an extraordinary experience with  
the Iraqi colleagues. They are absolutely committed to their work and  
they like very much to engage in this kind of discussion.

Most of them understand journalism as a moral mission. They act in the  
name of truth as a symbol for a new decade. To me this belief in truth  
and the effort to erase subjectivity from journalistic work may bring  
along problems though. Journalists, who are not reflecting on and  
dealing with their subjectivity but just reject it, become vulnerable  
for abuse in the power struggle that Iraq is going through. As I said:  
media in Iraq are biased and partisan. You cannot ignore that, but many  
Iraqi journalists tend to do so.

Another observation is quite interesting: a multitude of international  
media institutions (dpa, reuters, BBC, Deutsche Welle, MICT, IWPR, CNN,  
RFI, UN?) is offering media training to Iraqi journalists who attend  
workshops, trainings and conferences in high numbers. These journalists  
became a community with a fairly high level of competence and the  
belonging to this community, the attendance of foreign training  
measures become a ticket for the entrance in the Iraqi media field. At  
the same time, Iraqi institutions for the education of journalists are  
not undergoing any kind of reconstruction. The head of the department  
for mass media at the university in Baghdad is still the same as it was  
10 years ago. This gap is really wide open.

GL: Looking at the Election Monitor site that you've produced, there  
are only data from the first elections in January 2005. What was your  
aim when you set it up, back in 2004? Two more elections happened so  
far. What happened to your project? Was it a trail? Did it run out of  
money?

AW: Building up on the project election monitor Iraq, we are running a  
program called Niqash since Feb.2005 until today  
(http://www.niqash.org). Niqash is a political radio show and a Webpage  
that both aim to provide balanced and comprehensive reporting on the  
public debates in Iraq concerning the political process, respectively  
the constitutional process and the preparation, implementation and  
evaluation of the elections in December. The Website is in three  
languages (Arabic, Kurdish and English) whereas the radio show is in  
Arabic only (we only recently started a Kurdish version). Our main  
focus is not reporting facts but arguments, positions and political  
concepts of the involved players such as lists, parties, clerics, NGOs,  
consultants and candidates. This way the program is portraying the  
dynamics and the anatomy of political conflicts in Iraq which we  
consider as more important than distributing naked information. The  
interest on the Website was fairly high: In the forefront of the  
elections in December 2005 we had about 2000 visitors daily, most of  
them from the arab world.

Part of the website is a Blog section. We translated the Wordpress  
Interface into Arabic so Niqash-users that do not speak English can  
implement a blog. But interest in this feature is rather low until  
today. The contributions we work with for the radio show are created  
and delivered by 30 Iraqi journalists working in 8 different provinces  
of Iraq. Niqash is based on these contributions and is broadcasted  
through. 16 FM-radio stations in Iraq until today. The montage and  
production takes place in the MICT-office in Amman. The fact that  
contributions come from Iraqi journalists from inside and all parts of  
Iraq (not only Baghdad) and the fact that Niqash is broadcasted through  
partners in the entire country is most essential for the profile of our  
work.

The project was financed by the German Foreign Ministry and supported  
by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation until the end of March 2006. Since  
May we receive funds from the Belgium Foreign Ministry for  
qualification of journalists and reporting on the upcoming legislative  
and constitutional process. ?

GL: What do you make of the countless Iraqis that actually move out of  
the country? Yong talent that leaves, instead of returns. This is sad,  
don't you think?

AW: I agree: one after the other is leaving Iraq and the country is  
about to loose a great part of its intellectual and artistic potential  
in an ever increasing speed. That is a horrifying observation, indeed,  
like attending a slow starvation. But most of the artists, journalists  
and academics that left recently remain in some kind of a waiting  
position at the outside borders of Iraq in Amman, Damascus, Beirut,  
Cairo?..

Actually, every Iraqi in Exile that we met is depicting a life outside  
Iraq as painful and they all plan to go home eventually. But now the  
Shiite Islamists have taken over power in Iraq, the south of Iraq is  
strengthening its relations with Iran, religious dogmatism is growing  
stronger fast. This development makes the return of intellectuals,  
academics and artists less likely.

For the future of Iraq it is extremely important to keep those people,  
that recently left connected to their friends and colleagues that  
stayed in Iraq. Relations between inside and outside are crucial for  
the cultural, political and social development in Iraq. But the  
relations unfortunately tend to turn hostile once a person left. From  
those that stay, leaving is perceived as a betrayal to the homeland,  
the community, the people and family. From this notion the act of  
emigration is loaded with a feeling of guilt and the relation Exile  
Iraqies have to their homeland communities is often tense. One of our  
next projects, starting in summer will focus on this issue.

GL: Do you also see a (silent) withdrawal of outside support, since  
around mid 2004, for the people in Iraq?

AW: It depends which outside you mean. USA is as outside as Europe and  
as the Arab world and as the UN. According to their interests, they all  
relate completely different to Iraq, some have increased attention some  
have turned away. Iran for instance is very much increasing support for  
religious communities in the south by providing financial means and  
resources. European NGOs as a matter of fact withdraw because it is  
almost impossible for them to work in Iraq. European states are on hold  
since there is still no government to talk to. ?

GL: You didn?t want to publish this interview a few months ago. What  
was the reason?

AW: Since we received funds from the German government, we were asked  
not to extra-promote our activities as long as the two German engineers  
from Leipzig were kidnapped. They are free now. As you might remember,  
in the beginning the kidnappers articulated political demands including  
the termination of all German engagement in Iraq. Advertising our  
projects in this time could have complicated the situation, endangering  
the life of the hostages.

http://www.niqash.org/
http://www.streamminister.de/
http://www.streamtime.org/


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