Osama Hababe giving his address from the stage.
A new committee of media, religious minority and IMS representatives will ensure that voices of religious minorities in Iraqi media are better represented moving forward. This was one of the very concrete outcomes of a conference in Bagdad on 21 January organised by IMS with support from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
“Post-2003 Iraq must be based on co-existence, peace, respect for ethnic and religious diversity and the creation of new laws, legislations and culture that support this diversity because it is important at this stage.” These were the words of Luqman Faily, spokesman of the President of the Republic Mr. Barham Salih at the Conference of Iraqi media and Coverage of Religious Minorities, held on 21 January, 2019 at the Babylon Hotel in Baghdad.
The conference was organised by IMS as part of a programme to further the voices and rights of religious minorities supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The conference was attended by government officials, parliamentarians and representatives of European and American diplomatic missions, EU and UN institutions in Iraq.
“The President of Iraq invites you to continue this approach to achieve fair results that serve the religious minorities in Iraq and support the discovery and enrichment of the truth,” Luqman Faily said with address to IMS.
Building a culture of religious pluralism
The leaders of the various religious groups in Iraq support the call of the Iraqi President.
The leader of Mandaean religion in Iraq, Sheikh Sattar Jabbar al-Helou, pointed out that lack of knowledge is a challenge for all religious minorities in Iraq.
“Religious minorities in Iraq complain that local media neglect to cover their issues and activities, and that there is common ignorance about other religions than Islam. This is due to a school curricula that leads to intolerance when it comes to minority religions,” he said, and stressed the need to fight the language of hatred and violence appearing in some media outlets in Iraq.
The Chaldean Catholic Church said that state media have started covering religious minority issues and mentioned that despite the fatwa not allowing Muslims to celebrate Christmas and New Year (issued a couple of years ago by Iraq’s Muslim religious leader), more than 4 million Baghdadi citizens celebrated New Year’s Eve this December. State media also featured the celebrations.
Iraq state media also covered the Vatican’s Pop Francis’ ordaining of Iraq Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako to Cardinal on 28 June 2018, making Sako the first Iraqi in the Vatican.
Mr. Saib Khedr, Yazidi community representative in Parliament also pointed out that Iraqi media only cover Yazidis as victims of terror, not as part of the cultural and religious heritage of Iraq.
“When Iraqi media address us as Iraqis, and not as Yazidi Iraqis, or as victims of Islamic State Terror, we will feel that the State of Iraq is a state for all Iraqis, not only for specific religious groups,” he said.
The need to build a culture of religious pluralism in Iraq and to make media a platform for all minorities was stressed by Osama Hababe, manager of IMS’ Iraq programme manager.
“We are trying to ensure that the media is free and democratic, representing everyone in Iraq. We do not wish to see that Iraqi media is only serving specific groups. All citizens of all ethnic and religious entities should be represented evenly.”
From the Royal Embassy of Norway, the chargé d’affaires, Mr. Roar Haugsdal, underlined that it is imperative to create a comprehensive environment with respect for religious minorities. he explained that the media play a key role in this area and that freedom of information and freedom of belief are essential to democratic societies. He noted the importance of addressing the issue of giving all religious minorities a voice at this current moment in Iraq and the need to hire qualified journalists from various religious minorities in media organisations.
“International Media Support is one of the first organisations to have done studies on the role of media in Iraqi society,” he said, and added that Norway were proud to be a part of this work.
Way forward for more pluralism in Iraqi media
The discussions at the religious conference in Baghdad produced a series of recommendations of how to improve status quo in Iraqi media. These include:
- The Iraqi Government should adopt a policy of encouraging government media to disseminate materials about minorities and highlight religious diversity, coexistence between communities and the ethnic diversity in Iraq, as well as adopt policies that allow minorities access to the Public Service Broadcasters (PSB) and urge those stations to devote airtime to minority languages.
- The need for local media to move away from hate speech against minorities, to host peacemakers and boycott hate advocates in media outlets, and to urge the Commission for Media and Communications’ (CMC) authority to play its role in this field and monitor hate speech in media
- Training of media on how to address religious minority issues and training of journalists on how to cover those minorities and provide awards for the best reports in this field.
The conference announced that a follow up committee will be established to follow up on the implementation of the recommendations. The committee will include representatives from media stakeholders, religious minorities and IMS in Iraq as well as officials from media authorities like CMC and the Iraqi Media Network.
The conference was part of a programme implemented by IMS that aims to improve representation and understanding of religious minorities in Iraqi media and society.