The Al-Iraqiya channel is impressively even-handed, especially compared to other Arab media. Plus why 2008 is likely to be the year in which Iraq achieves real stabilityby Nibras Kazimi / January 20, 2008 / Leave a comment
In November, Patriarch Mar Emmanuel III Delly, the Baghdad-based head of the Chaldean church, was ordained into the College of Cardinals by Pope Benedict in the Vatican. The event was broadcast live on Iraq’s national television station, Al-Iraqiya, for over an hour, under the rubric “the symbols of Iraq.”
It was heartening to find Iraq’s state media highlighting the ceremony and describing the patriarch as a national “symbol.” The channel even skipped the Muslim midday call to prayer to keep showing the proceedings, which were translated from Latin into Arabic by the presenter. An Iraqi government delegation accompanied the patriarch to the Vatican—in contrast to a few years ago, when the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Istanbul visited the Vatican. Turkey officially ignored the event, and the patriarch travelled economy class.
The call to prayer on Al-Iraqiya alternates between the Shia and Sunni versions. Iraq is the sole Arabic-speaking country to do this; in Saudi Arabia, transmitting the Shia call, which is longer and more politicised, would be tantamount to blasphemy. Al-Iraqiya has also taken to showing mass on Sundays, even though less than 3 per cent of Iraq’s population are Christians. This would be unimaginable in Egypt, where around 10 per cent of the population are Christian Copts.
Al-Iraqiya’s programming is diverse. It airs live coverage of the regional parliament in the Kurdish capital Irbil, with simultaneous translation. (In Turkey, the letters “w,” “x” and “q” are banned from public use because they are only used in Kurdish words and names.) The channel then switches to the national parliament in Baghdad, screening the heated debates on terrorism and the new bill calling for the reintegration of Baathists into the state service. Also televised are the trials of leading Baathists responsible for putting down the 1991 Shia uprising, featuring tearful testimonies from the victims.
There are phone-in programmes, such as You and the Official, in which citizens berate sheepish officials over lack of services, or complain that no tea was distributed with this month’s food ration in some tiny rural enclave that no one’s heard of. Young officers are drafted in to explain the minutiae of the current Baghdad security plan. In other shows, intrepid female reporters without hijabs conduct on-the-spot interviews with Iraqis returning from Syria, intruding on their happy reunions with relatives at the bus depot. Wedding convoys are flagged down so the couple can…