- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2003

If the Bush administration is to remake Iraq into a model of democracy for the Middle East, it will have to pay as much attention to building democratic institutions as it will to rebuilding physical infrastructure. The construction of roads, bridges and schools represent clear missions with tangible results, compared to the arduous task of establishing democratic institutions on the national and local levels. And yet, it is the effectiveness of those institutions that will determine the success of postwar Iraq.
In today's world, television, radio, the Internet and newspapers are the backbone of meaningful elections, free-market institutions, communication between citizens and policy-makers and civic awareness in local communities. The media can also serve as watchdogs against corruption and repression and contribute to the resolution of social conflicts.
In recent years, state-controlled media in the Middle East have been challenged by the rise of satellite broadcasting and the Internet. Al-Jazeera, MBC, Abu Dhabi TV and others have bypassed government control and provided citizens with a broader range of news about their countries and the world, but have also given voice to extremist views. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein's regime has exercised almost complete control over the media and used state broadcasting as a propaganda tool. Iraqi journalists have little, if any experience, working in professional media basic journalistic principles have been neither taught nor practiced. Similarly, the Iraqi public has little notion of a free press and its role in society.
Over the past decade, the U.S. government, together with international institutions, has had success in supporting the development of independent media in Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Now, it has the opportunity to draw on that know-how and experience in crafting an overall media- assistance strategy for Iraq that will ensure professional, independent media in the region. This strategy should be based on the implementation of the following five points, essential to building a democratic media infrastructure:
1. Infrastructure. The media need an infrastructure that includes the transmission of television and radio signals, existence of printing facilities, the wide distribution of print media and access to the Internet. Most important, the management of the broadcast infrastructure must be non-partisan, guaranteeing equal access for all credible media organizations to the broadcasting sites.
2. Media law and regulation. High on the list of priorities should be the implementation of a legal and regulatory structure that frees media from interference by future Iraqi governments, political parties or criminal forces. There must be a guarantee of press freedom in the framework documents of a new Iraq, followed by laws and regulations addressing: broadcast licensing and frequency allocation; libel and defamation legislation; freedom of information; broadcast advertising; and related matters affecting media as businesses.
3. The transformation of state broadcasting. The United States should transform the current Iraqi media system into a public service broadcaster that focuses on educational, news and public affairs, and minority programming. A service that reflects Iraq's cultural and political diversity is indispensable for democracy.
4. Support for local associations and professional training. The United States and international organizations encourage the development of indigenous institutions and journalism associations that can fight for the independence of media and for the rights of journalists. Also, they will need to develop a cadre of Iraqi and regional trainers capable of teaching both journalism and media management. Nothing will undercut assistance efforts more quickly than a stream of foreign trainers conducting endless seminars on the merits of Western media practices.
5. Support for media monitoring. After the war, domestic media can be used to foment political unrest, incite fundamentalism or create conflicts between groups. For this reason, the United States should institute regular monitoring of all new Iraqi media and fund independent audience research that analyzes political coverage, audience reach and public perceptions of the media.
If the Iraqi media can be free of state control, present news in a balanced and truthful manner and reflect a broad range of opinion, then it is likely the United States will be able to withdraw its military presence more quickly from the country and region. And a speedy exit will go a long way in restoring America's tarnished image in the Muslim world.

Mark G. Pomar is president of the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX), a non-profit organization that conducts programs dealing with the development of independent media in Europe and the Near East.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide