Iraq 2006 Media Sustainability Index (MSI)

Project Dates
August 2005 – March 2006

Overview

The MSI Iraq has been conducted with the help and support of UNESCO. More than 50 Iraqi journalists and media professionals took part in three regional panels and one national panel, contributing their insights and analysis to provide this comprehensive review of the media environment in Iraq. The MSI looks at the legal system in place, free speech, access to public information, the professionalism of journalists, the strength and independence of the media market, the quality of management and editorial independence, and the strength of supporting institutions. The Iraq MSI is available in both Arabic (PDF, 602KB) and English (PDF, 552KB).

Introduction

Iraq’s media have changed fundamentally since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Replacing a tightly controlled propaganda operation are multiple newspapers and broadcasters reflecting a wide array of subjects from a myriad of perspectives. Media outlets now may be privately owned, and journalists are allowed to ask questions and publish dissenting views. Satellite dishes, printing presses, and international media are legal for all, and the Internet can be freely accessed.

However, the assessments of Iraqi media professionals participating in the Media Sustainability Index (MSI) process show Iraq has only begun to develop the free-speech protections, journalistic professionalism, media management skills, and supporting institutions necessary for a robust media sector that meets citizens’ information needs and contributes to government transparency and accountability.

The first MSI conducted in Iraq shows that the plurality of news sources is viewed as the strongest feature of the country’s nascent media sector. Iraqis have many ways to get information now, although most of the new media outlets are highly partisan. Censorship, both overt and self-imposed, as well as little experience in balanced and accurate reporting, result in weak journalistic professionalism. While there is legal basis for press freedom in the new but as yet evolving Constitution, the lack of a regulatory frame- work and a chaotic judicial system leave journalists with little confidence that media independence will be protected. The government and political leaders lack commitment to putting free-press principles into practice, and society at large is not yet protective of media freedom.

The weakest element of the media sector shown by the MSI, however, is the lack of the business management skills, professional associations, advocacy organizations, and industry services needed to build a strong media. Media outlets remain viewed primarily as propaganda tools, albeit for a wider range of interest groups, rather than businesses supported by advertising and built on credibility and customer service. Advertising, distribution services, and market research are barely present as tools for the strategic development of media companies. Journalists and managers seeking new skills, professional support, or advocacy for press freedom find few resources in the weak industry and trade associations and few professional development opportunities.

As the MSI panelists noted, these weaknesses are typical of media systems undergoing complete transformations. And they are all the more understandable considering the extraordinary insecurity with which journalists—and all Iraqis—must cope. The death toll among media workers continues to mount, and every day on the job brings a wide range of risks.

The MSI is designed to offer a comprehensive gauge of a nation’s progress toward the goal of a professional and sustainable independent media sector. The MSI methodology uses quantitative and qualitative means to assess the degree to which a country’s media system meets five objectives :

- Legal and social norms protect and promote free speech and access to public information.
- Journalism meets professional standards of quality.
- Multiple news sources provide citizens with reliable and objective news.
- Independent media are well-managed businesses, allowing editorial independence.
- Supporting institutions function in the professional interests of independent media.

The MSI represents the contributions of more than 50 Iraqi journalists, editors, media managers, and civil society activists. Three panels were regionally based, reviewing the media systems in the northern and southern areas of Iraq and in Baghdad. The fourth panel represented a national perspective and evaluated the Iraqi media sector as a whole. All panelists were Iraqis, and they analyzed the media system in which they work as it serves their country. This initial assessment for Iraq provides a baseline; subsequent annual implementations will detail in what areas there has been progress, or regression.

The MSI is a resource for journalists, media managers, free-press advocates, policymakers, development professionals, and donors seeking to strengthen the media—a goal increasingly recognized as fundamental to advancing good governance, transparency, poverty reduction, economic development, gender, health, and other development priorities.

Other IREX Europe projects in Iraq:
- Iraq : Building a Sustainable Independent Nationwide News Agency for Iraq
- Iraq : Good Governance through Support for Independent, Pluralistic, Professional and Sustainable Media in Iraq
- Iraq - Re-Versioning and Re-Broadcasting of “Our Constitution” Live Studio Debate Programs



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