Some Arab governments think that turning media outlets into propaganda tools is the best way to achieve and maintain security. I’m not talking state media, which are staffed by career bureaucrats and are essentially government agencies. I am referring to Arab media based outside Arab countries or in free zones, or in rare states where the media is permitted a measure of independence, but which have become targets of government cooptation or intimidation.
These [ostensibly free] media outlets have become official propaganda outlets even though they are not required to tow the government line. But independent media is a pillar of any country and source of strength in time of need, and governments that lack the benefit of free media should look for the opportunity to allow it to thrive. For example, when government officials try and convey something of importance, using the official media lacks credibility in the eyes of the public. In such cases, a free media that can question the official line actually enhances the government’s credibility.
One cannot blame the government or anyone caught up in Iraq’s political quagmire for not understanding this issue, because they don’t understand what politics is, and politicians must understand politics before expecting the people to understand the media.
I exclude no official from this, big or small. These last dark four years have proven that Iraqi politicians are enemies of any form of democracy that includes freedom of the press. This situation affects everyone and derives from the disintegrating internal politics in the country.
Because of this general state of internal deterioration in Iraq’s domestic political affairs, it would be better to leave the regulation of media to the Americans, who despite their oppressive military and security approach, have a greater understanding and awareness of these issues.
Let us not forget that the Americans themselves provided information to the media exposing the torture taking place in the Iraqi interior ministry and the prison at Abu Ghraib. But would the official media reveal the scandals involving the militias or rather, would they portray militia leaders as symbols of a new Iraq? This is what we should ask in terms of how our media operates.
We need to avoid the politicization of information provided to the public, because the media is part of an integrated package that can’t be separated from the issues of occupation, security, night raids and indiscriminate shelling, not to mention the control and infiltration of state organs (with our tacit approval) by the militias, who have their behavior justified by government ministers, “wearing ugly suits to distract from the false expressions on their faces.”
Iraq’s media outlets need an American decision to set press freedoms on a proper footing, and the Americans need to understand that millions of Iraqis might espouse opinions that they find objectionable. But certainly, the country doesn’t need repressive measures under which officials would act in a worse manner than the previous regime.
A strong media must be completely independent of the need for government approval. The secret police or militia might assassinate reporters or attack their offices and force them to close. But this would be a mistake that would result in a backlash.
A civilized country doesn’t need more than twenty or thirty major media providers. These should be treated like the nation’s treasure and should be looked after far more than sectors of the government, which count among them millions of people.