29 January 2007
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Challenges and Opportunities in Iraqi Kurdistan

Home.gifAPN spoke to Ahmed Mufti, who is the general manager of the bi-weekly Awene newspaper. Awene was established in December 2005 and has a total circulation of 17,000 copies, divided between Awene Political and Social and Awene Sport. The paper employs 36 people and currently has one sub-office. The newspaper has a diverse board of directors, including lawyers, doctors and intellectuals, who are also shareholders in the paper.

APN: In what way does the media scene in Kurdistan differ from the one in other parts of Iraq (Baghdad in particular)?
Mufti: The Kurdish community has three advantages in comparison to the rest of Iraq. First of all Kurdistan is a safer area. Secondly, Kurdish media benefit from a longer tradition of democracy and civil society than the rest of Iraq. Finally, we have more contacts with external communities and in particular with Western communities, which usually enjoy great press freedom. Taking these three factors into consideration, media in Kurdistan newspapers have better working conditions, including more interactivity with the civic society.

APN: What kind of challenges do newspapers in Kurdistan face today?
Mufti: There are two kinds of newspapers in Kurdistan: on one hand government-owned and political ones, and on the other hand independent ones. The first ones do not face any big challenges, since their owners provide them with everything they need. For the independent newspapers, however, there are a number of challenges. The financial aspect is the most important one.
The independent media outlets have to ensure all their expenses, and have to keep increasing their circulation and the quality of the newspaper in order to cover expenses for raw materials, human resources, operational costs, office running expenses, etc. The logistical challenges are also central. It is difficult to deliver the newspaper everywhere one wishes to. Some areas are not safe, others are too remote and the cost of delivery remains very high. There are also a number of legal challenges. Editors are not able to work freely, and journalists cannot obtain material without running into obstacles. Finally there is the issue of training: it is not easy to send staff to training events abroad, which means that they have to learn the profession on their own.

newsroom.jpgAPN: On a more practical level, what obstacles do newspapers in Kurdistan face?
Mufti: The practical problems of independent newspapers are largely linked to the financial issues. For example, I cannot deliver my newspaper everywhere I wish to since I do not have the appropriate vehicle, or cannot afford to buy one. Another example: I cannot create a professional marketing strategy since the salaries I can pay are too low to hire someone with the necessary skills. One more example: I cannot publish professional photos in the newspaper or on the website, since I cannot afford to buy a professional camera. The same goes for the website of the newspaper. I cannot create a professional site since I cannot afford to create one.

APN: What are the safety concerns of media outlets in Kurdistan?
Mufti: Safety is not of great concern for media in Kurdistan, however, there are a number of legal obstacles created by the local government which affect negatively on our performance. For instance; when a media outlet wants to defend a news source by keeping the name confidential, it may face legal harassment.

APN: In what ways are you covering the ongoing events in Iraq?
Mufti: I am depending on my correspondents in both Kurdistan and Baghdad. My correspondent in Baghdad is covering mainly the violence, but also political and social matters. He both writes the stories and takes the photos to accompany them.

newsprint.gifAPN: To what extent is that coverage limited by security concerns, specifically in Baghdad?
Mufti: The most critical places are Kirkuk and Baghdad. Obviously I cannot push my correspondent to take too big risks, which means that he cannot cover for example the Sunni areas. Again, I am limited by the financial constraints of my newspapers: I cannot pay a very high salary, which is needed when you cover dangerous areas. This means that the coverage remains limited.

The Awene newspaper plans to go daily in 2007, and an online edition of the paper is already in place. The URL of the newspaper is: http://www.awene.com

To visit our list of newspapers in Iraq, click here