Alternative Media in the Demonstrations in Iraq
A film by Abdulla Abdrahmaan, Ola Khalil, Ubeyt Enes Eren in 2021
Supervised by Prof. Dr. Sahar Khalifa Salim
After the 2018 elections, the formation of the Iraqi cabinet took nearly a full year to complete. After that on 1st October 2019, the biggest demonstrations in years were organized in Iraq.
They were held to protest against the lack of services, violation of human rights, restrictions on freedom of expression and the rampant corruption in some state institutions. The authorities in Iraq were worried by the demonstrations. To face them, the authorities resorted to several procedures, the most prominent of which was preventing the presspersons and satellite channels from covering the demonstrations’ news. Consequently, media entities emerged from the very demonstration squares.
Sajjad Adnan: Newspaper Founder in the Demonstration Squares
We moved from being demonstrators to pressperson demonstrators. Being journalists, the idea of a newspaper was formed later on. That was because we were journalists who were deprived of the right to practice our media work, such as writing, public relations and how to establish relations among the media institutions. We agreed to found a newspaper. The financial support came from students within the team. Every Saturday, we issued a new issue. On Thursdays or Fridays, we collected from every member a small amount of money to be able to print the newspaper.
For the first time in Iraq, alternative media had appeared with simple funds and efforts that attracted the attentions of several media institutions and parties concerned with the demonstrations. That took the form of issuing several paper printed newspapers in addition to a local radio station run by a group of demonstrators. Those media voiced the actual viewpoint of the demonstrators. Several satellite channels and social media followed up the news and statements published in them.
Ameera: A Journalist
Sada At-Tahreer (Freedom Echo) station or satellite channel was founded after four or five months after the start of the demonstrations. It was founded by a group of young persons who supported the protests. It was founded outside Iraq. Its work, however, was purely field work without inside studios. Photographing depended on the sites of protests, namely the Tahreer Square and all the main areas surrounding the protests square or area.
Many Iraqi presspersons were killed or kidnapped because they covered the protests. It wasn’t possible to count them, but in the last index published by the US Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Iraq ranked third among the worst countries in the international Impunity Index due to the crimes committed against journalists in 2020. It ranked after Somalia and Syria. The results of October and November 2019 showed that 100 journalists were assaulted and battered, 3 of whom were killed. Because they covered the protests continuously, media institutions were confined and attacked. Eight satellite channels and 4 radio stations were closed and 5 satellite channels were warned under the pretext of violating professional behavior.
Hasan Nabeel: NRT Correspondent
While covering the demonstrations, everybody followed the journalists, especially when there were shootings or tear gas canisters. Lots of these problems occurred during the events of the demonstrations which the journalist followed to cover. Then, he would face lots of difficulties.
While covering those events to document the news comprehensively and professionally, a journalist would suffer from harassments when he got out. He might be stabbed with knives by unknown militias that were present in the demonstration squares. Those militias are implicitly affiliated with the parties belonging to the authorities.
Generally speaking from the first day, nearly 14 media were targeted in the governorates where demonstrations took place. The targeting actions were varied. Some were stormed and their headquarters destroyed, such as Dijal, NRT and Al-Hadath Alarabiya satellite channels. Others suffered from arrests, as in Al-Rasheed channel whose correspondent Arshad Al-Hakim was arrested at At-Tayaran Square along with his co-workers Ahmad Ar-Rikabi and Ali Fadhil. The targeting even amounted to physical liquidation of the journalist Amjad Ad-Dahamat in Maysan.
Journalists suffered from lots of harassments. Mostly, there was complete prevention. We depended on a different approach in covering the demonstrations. As journalists, we could hide in certain ways, such as changing our clothes and documenting the events by personal mobiles.
Kidnapping was a means of pressure on the demonstrators. Muhammad Ash-Shammari was the most prominent kidnapped journalist. That condition took Iraq to the 156th rank (out of 180 countries) in the World Press Freedom Index.
Muhammad Taha: Demonstrator
The amount of the media coverage neither met the demonstrators’ wishes, nor amounted to the required level. As we know, the demonstrations were growing daily in Baghdad and the other governorates. Some satellite channels tried to cover, but, though few, they started to face major obstacles: security or legal ones, being prosecuted by outlaws, etc. Consequently, however, the work started to develop daily. The Tahreer Sq. and sit-in and demonstration squares started to become a media mirror that reflected what happened during the demonstrations.
The demonstrators also used graffiti as an additional means to express their protests and demands, and hence, the Tahreer Sq. walls were filled with expressive professional ones. Moreover, national or patriotic songs were broadcasted by the radio stations founded by the demonstrators.
When we first entered the demonstration squares, we saw stunning scenes: expressive slogans written or hanged on the walls like posters, flexes and graffiti. All those surely influenced and increased the motivation and ambition to get out. You got out to achieve an objective, but that needed motivation every now and then. Surely, those words, which were chosen by specialists, were effective. As Iraqis say, “they were to the point.”
It seems that need is the mother of invention. In a record time, the Iraqi square witnessed the birth of a new generation that had started to publish and distribute news with the least costs to communicate what took place daily. That indicated to the groups’ ability to cope with development, in one hand, and to their earnestness to communicate the event without exagerating or faking the facts, on the other.