Investigative journalism gains ground in Iraq

In post-war Iraq, the need for quality investigative journalism is immense. Despite adverse conditions, reporters trained by an IMS-supported network for investigative journalists, continue to make headway

By Andreas Reventlow

“Of course we risk a lot during our work, but this is just part of our job,” says Mayada Daoud Hasan.

“But actually, the hardest part of the job is accessing information. That’s extremely difficult.”

Mayada Daoud Hasan has worked in journalism for eight years. She is based in Baghdad where attacks on and killings of journalists is widespread. Late last year she won the UNICEF Media Award on Child Rights for an investigation on children’s rights she did with assistance from the Network for Iraqi Reporters for Investigative Journalism (NIRIJ).

With a degree in economics she started writing after realising that journalism could provide an income and a way of achieving social change in her country:

“In the past I didn’t consider journalism a viable way to earn a living, but changes to our society following 2003 opened the way for the media, and encouraged me to publish my stories to improve people’s lives.”

Investigating children’s rights

Mayada Hasan investigated the challenges homeless children face in Iraq, highlighting the importance of providing them with safe places that offer them a sense of normalcy, and protection against harm:

“I visited a homeless shelter where I saw children being evicted to the street.”

Iraqi law stipulates that orphanages and shelters must evict their residents once they turn 18.

“These children have nowhere to go in one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Many of them do not have any skills.

“Some are forced to join organised crime or gangs. Some are killed, and some disappear without a trace,” says Mayada Hasan.

According to Save the Children, children in Iraq suffer from psychological trauma of war and conflict, and have little access to education or other development opportunities.

Documentation “extremely poor”

After leaving her job at a Jordanian news agency where she covered the conditions of Iraqi refugees in 2007, Mayada Hasan went on to pursue a career in investigative journalism with a focus on social issues.

She received training and financial support from the IMS-supported Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) and later its Iraqi counterpart, NIRIJ to conduct in-depth reporting under the most adverse conditions.

“Doing these investigations is not easy. This one [on homeless children] took about seven months.”

Following the investigation, Iraqi authorities announced the opening of new homeless shelters in Baghdad. Amendments to regulations governing the homeless are also needed says Mayada Hasan.

“I used whatever was available to do my story: statistics and interviews with the homeless children, with officials, with judges and civil society institutions and researchers.”

Despite a need for the media to reveal social injustice and governance problems connected to Iraq’s post-war setting, investigative journalists are met with suspicion, and face sometimes insurmountable challenges when attempting to gain access to documentation.

“The press is viewed with scepticism when we request access to information from the government. They always ask us: “why do you want to know?” or “who sent you to work against us?”

“But even if we were allowed access to documents and statistics, we then face the massive problem of the quality of that material. Statistics and documentation in Iraq is extremely poor. And sometimes it’s simply not there.”

“The authorities are simply not used to the practice of investigative journalism, but we are trying to change this through NIRIJ,” says Mayada.

“We will continue with our work to unravel issues in our society where only the eyes of investigative journalists gaze.”

Mayada Daoud Hasan won the UNICEF Media Award on Child Rights in December 2012 for an investigation she did with assistance from the IMS-supported Network for Iraqi Reporters for Investigative Journalism (NIRIJ).

Founded in May 2011, NIRIJ is the first network for investigative journalists in Iraq.