Postdoctoral Researcher | SOAS

A comparative study of the production practices of the mass media of a country in conflict, Iraq

Peace and Justice Strong Institutions

This research is a comparative study of two of Iraq’s leading media platforms (in terms of reach) newsroom practices, which is the government broadcaster and the main privately owned, leading television channel, Al Sharqiya.

References

PhD paper: A comparative study of the production practices of the mass media of a country in conflict, Iraq (2020)

About:

This research used a qualitative approach, combining comparative case study and ethnographic research.

My research took place intermittently for over the period of a year-and-a-half during my time working for the BBC media action.

As I was working on a project in Iraq for the BBC, the Iraqi government broadcaster gave me a desk within the newsroom.

But as Al Sharqiya were based in London, I was able to spend a few solid weeks in the newsroom in the evenings over a month period.

I applied an anthropological theory called liminality to understand journalist practice and identity in the context of Iraq. I used it to look at how journalistic identity was evolving in the case of Iraq.

Funding:

This research was independently conducted and did not receive funding from outside of the university.

Additional reading:
  • Example: Jummar[Access resource]

Key points

  • There’s a tendency to apply Global North standards and principles to examine practice and organisational behaviour and what it all means, but instead we need to be thinking about the context.

I conducted ethnographic research, spending time in both newsrooms and interviewing journalists, editors, and media practitioners from both organisations.

There has been a lot of work in Iraq, particularly in media or journalism, that relies on content analysis. For example, there have been many studies of media coverage in Iraq that look at international media’s coverage of the Iraqi conflict. However, there’s been very little work that not only understands media from an Iraqi perspective and the impact on the Iraqi journalists, but also includes qualitative research and ethnographic research. This type of research allows researchers to take the time to actually observe newsroom practices and be part of that newsroom as a participant observer, and not just in Iraq, but in the MENA region as a whole.

This research contributes to the understanding of newsrooms and journalism practices in the region and specifically in Iraq. There was a real lack of this kind of work, and it was important to start to unpick the experiences of Iraqi journalists in order to inform strategies going forward. Although this research is an academic piece, it includes knowledge and insights that are very important for the policy world.

Findings

  • In the case of the public broadcaster, practices were still informed by those under the current regime, compromising journalism ethics such as accuracy and sourcing.

    The role of the public media was still to support the government's framing and narrative of events. The Head of News would receive phone calls from the Prime Minister to complain about the way stories have been covered.

  • In the case of Al Sharqiya, because the newsroom was based in London and most of the journalists were diaspora Iraqis, they were using tactics associated with media activists, rather than journalists.

    They relied heavily on social media platforms and covert methods to gather content. Al-Sharqiya was one of the few channels covering protests in public spaces in Iraq, reflecting their position against the dominant government narrative.

  • There was very little motivation or political will for change in the media and to support independent media.

    This is unsurprising considering the current situation of the media, which supports those in power.

What it means

I use a theory of liminality, which explores the importance of time and space within journalistic practice.

Practices are being defined by the conditions under which journalists are operating in Iraq, such as violence, a lack of security, the ISIS capture of cities, and war. So this context plays a role in shaping practices. Especially so for for Al Sharqiya, as they are living in exile and their diaspora, activist status dominates their practice.

The importance of history is also evident, as the impact of war, ongoing state policies, and the sectarian system in Iraq continue to influence journalism and media practice. At the time of my fieldwork, I found that identity in newsrooms was dominated by sectarian identities – especially Shia.

Journalism practices were also contested. Principles of independence, impartiality, and accuracy, as well as professional roles, responsibilities, and hierarchies, were all questionable. Understanding the norms of journalism did not appear to be evident.

As for the media landscape in Iraq, Iraqi citizens are underrepresented in their own media, and the media is also failing to address their needs. The media is seen as just another institution that has failed the Iraqi public. There is a lack of trust, and disinformation is commonplace. Important political events and processes, as well as social issues like gender, climate change, and economic crises, are not covered in the Iraqi media, leading to Iraqis struggling to make informed decisions.

The younger generation, however, is showing some appetite for change. This may be driven by their access to information from outside of Iraq and observations of how other people are living. Some influencers and journalists are using their own platforms to get their opinions and ideas across, as they don’t feel like there are platforms that are representing them. As a result, both practitioners and audiences are gathering information in unconventional ways.

How to use

  • In order to have a functioning space, there needs to be more truly independent platforms
  • Journalists must create independent content that serves the public interest
  • Universities and colleges have a role to prepare the future of journalists
  • It is not just about reforming legislation and laws, but also about reforming the banking system and dealing with corruption, ensuring that it can facilitate the provision of independent funding to new platforms
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Al Kaisy, Aida. 'A comparative study of the production practices of the mass media of a country in conflict, Iraq'. Acume. https://www.acume.org/r/a-comparative-study-of-the-production-practices-of-the-mass-media-of-a-country-in-conflict-iraq/