18 October 2004 – The average Iraqi’s view of media is quite different than that of an American citizen. Up until the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime there was no independent media, and it is clearly reflected in the society. While information can be obtained through the radio and TV, it seems that tribal or group alliances often serve as the overriding outlet for persuasive information. This is not surprising in a society that has been dominated by a culture of group cohesion over the fulfillment of individual needs.
Democracy, especially Western style, is infused with the notion that individual liberties and values are sacrosanct. This is not the case in Iraq. Future efforts in developing a media strategy and tactics for a new and free Iraq must consider alternative aspects of Iraqi society, including religion, tribal affiliation and ethnicity. A real lack of national identity requires that creative evaluations be performed to ensure media campaigns are successful. Other strategies that may pave the way for a more effective and accepted media are:
• Provide ownership of the media outlet and control of the media to Iraqi people. Use the coalition only in supporting roles.
• Provide necessary support to develop institutions to monitor and define free speech.
• Foster a genuinely Iraqi media through grassroots efforts using Western media models only as a guide.
• Be sensitive to differences in culture and societal values.
• Train journalists due to the void in this profession left by the former regime.
• Perform joint training of coalition and local journalists.
• Use alternative definitions of demographic groups — include tribal or group alliances when devising media tactics and strategies and defining target audiences.
• Provide courses in colleges and universities for technical and professional positions in the media field.
Having been here three times in the last decade as a soldier and a reporter, it is very clear to me that life is hard and serious in Iraq. The need to use the media as an entertainment channel is also important in order to alleviate some of the daily stress and uncertainty of life. Homegrown shows, popular foreign programs or sports events would resonate with many Iraqis and depict the media as not only a purveyor of bad news.
The media are very important components of a democracy. From the development of the newspaper to cable news to the "blogs" of today, democratic societies have craved information and media insight. The ability to express ideas, views and factual news must exist in order to foster the ongoing debate and discussion that is the essence of free speech in a democratic society. In addition to the development of security forces, upgrades in infrastructure and preparation for elections, particular emphasis should be placed on improving the media industry in Iraq. Doing so will go a long way to shoring up the foundations of this new democracy.