Amid crisis with Erbil, Baghdad launches Kurdish TV programming

The federal government in Iraq is seeking to build bridges of communication between it and the population of the Kurdistan Region through news broadcasts and television programs in the Kurdish language, the language of the majority of the population in the Kurdistan Region.

After seeing that its statements and positions were being distorted by Kurdish channels, the Iraqi government found that it needed to address the Kurds in their own language. This prompted it to allocate airtime for news in the Kurdish language on Al-Iraqiya, the government’s official channel.

Mujahid Abu al-Hill, the head of the Iraqi Media Network, announced Oct. 17 that Al-Iraqiya will broadcast programs in the Kurdish language for two hours a day, which will be gradually increased in the future.

In a press statement to Al-Iraqiya, Hill said, “The Kurdish-language airtime will not remain limited to two hours, but [later] there will be a Kurdish channel broadcasting 24 hours a day from inside the capital, Baghdad.”

The Iraqi government is trying to convey its positions regarding the recent crisis during the two-hour evening segment. The two hours include a news bulletin and a political program titled “Studio Kurdistan,” in which analysts, experts and Kurdish members of parliament will discuss the crisis between Baghdad and Erbil.

The Iraqi Media Network is getting ready to extend the Kurdish airtime to four hours in the coming days. But the lack of a frequency specifically allocated to a Kurdish channel and the need to take time from Turkmen channel broadcasts will delay the 24-hour broadcasting project. This move by the Iraqi Media Network coincides with the recent crisis that flared up after the Sept. 25 referendum on independence for Iraqi Kurdistan.

Although the project to start a Kurdish-language channel coincided with the crisis between Baghdad and Erbil and seems closely linked to it, the Iraqi Media Network announced that the channel is an old plan that it had started working on when its new management took over. The network claims it is a coincidence the launch is in tandem with the current crisis.

Adnan al-Jaf, a Kurdish journalist who hosts a TV program during the two-hour Kurdish-language airtime on Al-Iraqiya, disputes this assertion. He told Al-Monitor, “There was no plan to open a Kurdish-language channel, but the recent crisis forced the Iraqi Media Network to address the people of the Kurdistan region in their language.” This was confirmed to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity by an official source within the Iraqi Media Network.

Before the announcement made by Hill, the first Kurdish news bulletin covering local and international events started airing on Al-Iraqiya on Oct. 2.

In a similar move, the office of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued a statement Sept. 30 in the Kurdish language, explaining the reasons for the crisis with the Kurdistan region. This was the first time that such statements were issued in a language other than Arabic.

The Kurdish channel has no staff of its own. Therefore, the media network recruited a group of Kurdish journalists to manage programs and translate news materials.

“Our job is to translate the news content from Arabic to Kurdish. We are keen on preserving objectivity, because some Kurdish channels are dealing with the crisis in a nonprofessional way,” Jaf said.

It should be noted that the Iraqi Media Network Law of 2015 provides that programs should be in the official languages defined by the constitution, including the Kurdish language. Since its establishment in 2003, the Iraqi Media Network has been broadcasting its shows only in Arabic and Turkmen, although the Kurdish language is the second language in Iraqi state institutions.

Sarwa Abdel Wahed, a member of the parliamentary Culture and Media Committee, told Al-Monitor, “Two years ago, I exerted efforts to have a Kurdish-language channel in the Iraqi Media Network, but this project was delayed until the recent crisis prompted the network to take action.”

Kurdish news bulletins and TV programs airing on Al-Iraqiya irked many Kurdish citizens and writers, who saw that the real intention of the channel is to spread toxic news and incite sectarianism in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Karim Hamadi, the director of Al-Iraqiya, said in a press statement that the airtime allocated to Kurdish-language programs was not limited to the satellite channel, but that Republic of Iraq Radio, which is affiliated with the Iraqi Media Network, was doing the same thing.

It seems that this step by the Iraqi government will not have a successful outcome in light of the large number of Kurdish-language channels and media networks airing 24 hours a day and headquartered in the provinces of the Kurdistan region. Some of them may even technically outperform the Iraqi Media Network.

The Kurds with Kurdish nationalist aspirations in the Kurdistan region of Iraq still view the official media as the media of the regime seeking to rob them of their rights. This may be the reason why they have not welcomed the step to allocate Kurdish-language airtime on such media outlets.

There was never a Kurdish-language official media outlet in the history of the Iraqi state. During the previous regime, television broadcasts were limited to Arabic-language Iraq TV and Shabab TV channels. This was also the case of Al-Iraqiya satellite broadcasts at that time. The Kurds found themselves forced to establish terrestrial broadcasting channels, namely the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) and the People’s channel, which turned into satellite channels after 2003.

Just like in Baghdad, there is also pluralism in the Kurdish media circle. Indeed, Kurdish media outlets are funded by the political parties or businessmen who entered the political world recently. But despite all this, there is no official Kurdish channel affiliated with the presidency of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

The fact that the Kurdish-language airtime coincided with the crisis in Iraq may lead the population of the Kurdistan Region to question the true intentions behind broadcasting Kurdish-language news bulletins after more than a decade of waiting.

In all cases, the long overdue Kurdish-language airtime will not persuade most Kurds to give up on their quest for independence. This has been their dream for decades.

Image: Khalid al-Mousili

Article: Al Monitor