On Kurd media – Kurd media channels / Pro German Philosopher Juergen Habermas

On Kurd media – Kurd media channels / Pro Herman Pilosopher Juergen Habermas /  02 Sep 2013 0 – Interview with Harem Karem: Interviewed by Aras Ahmed Mhamad

AM: How do you define the Kurdish media (mass media) in general terms?

HK: Mass media comprises many different forms of communication through which people send and receive information; in most cases, it’s in the form of one-to-many. Whether it’s print: books, newspapers, and magazines etc… or electronic: internet, television, radio etc… mass media is imperative to a healthy democracy, where individuals are informed, aware, and debate the present issues of their society.

The historical transformation of the public sphere onto the internet in the past decade and the mass media revolution that has taken place throughout the planet, has also changed the Kurdish media to an exponentially larger ecosystem – both traditional print as well as electronic. This however, has side-effects too. Due to the fact that we all see and hear the same things at the same time, we are inevitably bound to conformism. Thus the mass media and globalisation has reduced the effectiveness of the public sphere.

AM:  How do you observe and evaluate the current media situation in the Kurdistan Region?

HK: Kurdish media in general is heavily politicized. There is more echoing of one another, misinformation and unnecessary attribution to anonymous sources than grassroots journalism. Individuals have – to a large degree – jumped on the bandwagon without a professional journalist background (often operating in the form of media activism); political parties as well as powerful individuals affiliated with the oligarchs also have their own media outlets with large budgets while the independents are outnumbered, lacking funds and proper tools and training.

One could argue that this has confused, misinformed, and disillusioned the masses more than ever. In other words, the media landscape in the Kurdistan region has changed in the past decade or so from disastrous to shambolic. There are two main media hubs in the region, one in Hawler and the other in Slemani, which all goes back to the civil-war era of 1994-1998, when Hawler was known as the ‘yellow zone’ and Slemani as the ‘green zone’. Both the PUK and KDP had their own media outlets (they still do) and were in a constant war of words while the civil-war was on-going. Despite the fact that both are currently allies and in a coalition government, in practice these zones are managed differently and therefore the difference can also be noted within the media. Furthermore, in the yellow zone, press freedom has always been more restricted than in the green zone.

 AM:   How many types of media are there in South Kurdistan?

HK: Beyond the traditional media outlets – television, radio, newspapers and magazines – digital journalism seems very popular and effective. Thus citizen journalism has newly emerged like in any other part of the planet. Citizen journalism can be in the form of blogging, alternative journalism, network journalism, and social media. Individuals are in possession of tools that are used to communicate and inform one another of contemporary issues concerning their society and often motivated by one of the following factors: desire to be in control of the news, facts-checking and disproving news stories produced by the mainstream media, holding powerful organizations to account, ideology, social justice issues, dissatisfaction with the main stream media, informing the public and/or a sense of participation. Generally, there are two different types of citizen journalism: Semi-Independent network journalism and independent citizen journalism. The former usually run blogs and through others’ contributions turn the blog into a mini outlet and therefore is semi-independent. They often cooperate with the mainstream media, particularly during natural disasters, terrorist attacks, wars, and other events etc… as well as consulting readers on performance and coverage. Semi-independent citizen journalists are often hiring professional technology experts, editors and reporters to run the blog with them. We have countless examples of this, many of which are setup and managed by Kurds of the diaspora.

The latter, however, involves citizen journalists working in ways that are fully independent. Their readers neither have a say in what they publish nor are considered as source of information. They do not have any links with the mainstream media and they are completely self-reliant.Furthermore, one of the fundamental types of journalism is investigative journalism which doesn’t currently exist in the Kurdistan region.

AM:  How important is freedom of the media, taking into consideration the division of the biggest (not most influential) media channels between the ruling and the opposition parties in South Kurdistan?

HK: The outstanding beacon for free media is Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Freedom of expression is a universal human right and fundamental to a democratic society; it’s not the prerogative of the oligarchs or their puppets. Both opposition and ruling parties are unmercifully distorting the news – overstretching and exaggerating it in their own favour – which one deems as the biggest offenders of the truth. A free media cannot belong to a politician, political party and/or a powerful individual. It has to be publicly owned and with no more than one share per a person regardless of the price.

AM:  Media channels can play with people’s minds and emotions and affect their decisions. Media agencies can mislead the public and distort reality. Political interests and individual affiliations play a huge role in determining the publication of news. How would you comment on that especially now that the election campaigns are on the road?

HK: The German philosopher Habermas set out a list of tasks which the media ought to fulfill in democratic political systems:

a. Surveillance of the socio-political environment, reporting developments likely to impinge, positively or negatively, on the welfare of citizens;

b. Meaningful agenda setting, identifying the key issues of the day and the forces which have formed and may resolve them;

c. Providing a platform for intelligible and illuminating advocacy by politicians and members of civil society groups;

d. Facilitating dialogue across a diverse range of views, as well as between the public and those in positions of power;

e. Holding those in positions of power to account;

f. Encouraging citizens to learn about and become involved in the political process;

g. Resisting all attempts to subvert the independence and integrity of the media and their ability to serve their audience.

Anyone who observes the Kurdish media would agree with me that all of the above tasks are not fulfilled. In my view, the contemporary problems of Kurdish media are multidimensional. Part of it is relating to the way in which the current political system functions and another part is relating to the nature of political citizenship and social structure. But a critical part is due to the fact that there isn’t an effective independent body set up by the industry and backed by legislation in order to regulate the media. This body can then set out a code of conduct and hold media companies and journalists responsible for their actions. This body can then protect both the public and journalists.

Unfortunately, there are currently all sorts of unethical practices, treachery and techniques used by the Kurdish media, which can be considered as violations of media objectivity, and nobody questions them while the public is paying a heavy price for this. These include: neuro-linguistic programming, misleading definitions and terminology, imbalanced reporting, opinions disguised as news, lack of context, using true facts to draw false conclusions, selective omission and/or distortion of facts.

Harem Karem is editor and co-founder of the Kurdistan Tribune.

Aras Ahmed Mhamad is a freelancer. He is the founder and deputy editor of SMART magazine, an independent English magazine that focuses on ‘Literature, Language, Society’. He is the Top Student of College of Languages at the Department of English/ University of Human Development, 2012.