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State of the media

Since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, there has been a boom in Iraqi media. Only nine weeks after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the number of Iraqi newspapers and magazines in the country exceeded 140 publications. Currently, it is very difficult to obtain a clear picture of the media landscape, but according to estimates there are hundreds of publications, and satellite TV-channels and radio stations have mushroomed as well.

The overriding concern for journalists is the security situation. Journalism is currently one of the most lethal professions in Iraq. According to Reporters Without Borders, 206 journalists and media assistants were killed since the start of fighting in Iraq in March 2003.

Print press
Iraq has more than a hundred daily and weekly publications. Nearly all of them are privately owned. Often they are related to political, ethnic, sectarian groups and serve as propaganda outlets for groups who struggle for influence. The security situation has deeply affected the financial sustainability of the press. They also face a lack of resources, notably a reliable power supply. It is expected that the number of publications will be reduced substantially once the country achieves political stability. The most important newspapers are Al-Zaman, formerly based in London, Al-Sabah, run by the government-sponsored Iraqi Media Network, and Al-Mada and Al-Manarah. The Kurdish groups PUK and KDP also operate their own newspapers, Al-Ittihad and Al-Taakhi respectively.

Audiovisual media
The TV and radio stations set up by the now-defunct U.S.-controlled Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) are now part of a publicly-funded broadcaster, the Iraqi Public Broadcasting Service. Neither Al-Iraqiya nor Al-Hurra are very popular with the Iraqi public. Satellite TV is watched by around 70 percent of Iraqi viewers; the pan-Arab news stations Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera are popular as well, although Al-Jazeera has been banned from working inside Iraq for “inciting sectarian violence.” Iran’s Al-Alam TV, which broadcasts in Arabic, can be received in Baghdad without a dish. In the northern autonomous Kurdish enclaves, rival factions operate their own media.

Online media
During Saddam Hussein’s reign, access to the Internet was only possible at government-sponsored public Internet centers and was strictly monitored. After the fall of Saddam, despite the difficult economic circumstances, Internet cafés mushroomed although accurate numbers are difficult to obtain. The last estimate from October 2005 put the number of Iraqi Internet users at 36,000. The reports coming from inside Iraq agree on the existence of Internet censorship but also agree that it is not as strict as it was under Saddam.

News agencies
There are currently three news agencies, the National Iraqi News Agency (NINA), the Iraqi National News Agency (INNA), and Aswat al-Iraq. The latter was set up by the Reuters Foundation and the United Nations Development Programme.

Media organizations
There are a number of associations and organizations active in the field of journalism and media. The Iraqi Journalists’ Union and the Kurdistan Journalists’ Union are both members of the International Federation of Journalists. Other organizations, such as the Iraqi Association to Defend Journalists’ Rights, the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, and Writers without Borders are devoted to freedom of expression.

Media policies
On October 15 2005, Iraqis voted to adopt a permanent constitution, which included provisions guaranteeing freedom of press and expression “in a way that does not violate public order or morality,” according to Article 36. Articles 101 and 102 outline a financially and administratively independent National Communications and Media Commission. However, like many other articles in the constitution, they do not specify the commission's mandate or define its implementing regulations and legislation. Legal analysts have noted that some archaic laws dating from Saddam Hussein's rule remain on the books, including restrictive insult, anti-defamation, and state secrets laws. In addition, Iraqi officials use restrictive press legislation enacted by regional government authorities to curtail press freedom.

Currently, a Media Law Working Group – consisting of Iraqi MP's, public officials, representatives of the broadcast regulator and the public service broadcaster, the media and journalists syndicates, as well as human rights lawyers – are working to develop proposals for an Iraqi legislative and regulatory framework which will promote a free, pluralistic and independent media in Iraq. The Group is convened under the joint auspices of Article 19 and UNDP’s Iraq Office.

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