By Salman Ahmed Rasul
Kurdish security forces attack demonstrators and journalists in Sulaimaniyah, Kurdistan region of Iraq. April 18. 2011. Photo credit: Haedar Omar
Kurdistan region needs responsible and professional journalists as much as they need expert politicians. On the one hand, it is moral and everybody’s duty here is to endorse the region, especially the journalists and writers who cover and demonstrate the region for the international community. On the other hand, when they see something wrong, they do not have to be neither silent nor exaggerated. They should be objective, critical, unbiased, separating opinion from news, and tell the truth to avoid misunderstanding in order to have ethical standards.
I want to share one of my personal experiences in journalism here to keep my “nut graph” simple and more clear to make a point. I published an article on UPIU on December 1, 2011 which was published on some other websites later as well. I mentioned Kurdistan region as a safe haven of Iraq in this article that so many foreigners, including international experts can travel only to one spot of the country without concern about the security issues. This is why the New York Times listed Kurdistan as one of the top 41 places to travel around the world on Jan 9, 2011!A short time after I published my story, a very professional American journalist in almost every sense of journalism in Washington D.C. criticized me that I am promoting and advertising Kurdistan. She told me that the first paragraph of my story veers into public relations territory. It reads more like a brochure advertising Kurdistan than a news story.
She also said, “Yes, it is news that The New York Times touted the region as a top place to travel, but do not allow that to mar your news story. Focus on the news, not on promoting Kurdistan. The reality of the situation on its own is enough of an argument that the region is safe to visit!” I whole-heartedly agree that she is right, but as a matter of fact, generally I realized that this is the nature of the Kurds as the largest stateless nation in the world without an independent country in the process of recovering and serving their only Kurdish autonomous territory who are very patriotic and nationalistic due to facing a lot of genocide, massacre, horrific events and barbarism throughout history, especially during 1980s under Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Quite frankly, I found out for myself when I wrote the first paragraph of my story, I was in a position where I had to make a choice between two good things: either a positive Kurdish patriotic or a professional journalist which is a kind of tough decision to implement. My point is you have unequivocally the right to affiliate with any political party you want. You have the right to support your political background and protect all of your identities. You have the right to express your feelings for your own country and to be in sympathy with its legacies, accomplishments, and glories, but if you want to be a professional journalist, this is a different story.
If we analyze the recent riots in Badinan as an example that is covered by the local media on a massive scale, we easily recognize that the local media is not professional. 2011 was the period of transition, full of unforeseen situations, events, untold incidents and devastations in the Middle East. The Kurdistan region of Iraq also faced some of the transitions. In the very beginning of the last month of 2011, a group of young people who were led by a handful of preachers rioted in a protest right after Friday noon prayers on December 2 in Zakho. They attacked and burnt some hotels,www.ekurd.net alcohol stores and a massage parlor. In the evening, the headquarters of Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) in Duhok and its offices in Zakho and in some other districts around were burnt as well. Some people compared this internal unrest with London riots. This violent incident became one of the major events that brought a serious widespread local media attention in 2011. It was covered by the media in variety of viewpoints due to the influence of political affiliations over media, journalists, and political analysts.
There are various interpretations such as misinterpretations, possible assumptions, and fair understanding of the event. Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has claimed that it has been instigated primarily by members and supporters of KIU, and KIU replied that what KDP has said in the media is a fabricated legend, and in fact, it is an implausible scenario by KDP and denied all the theoretical and practical implication of their supporters among the rioters.
The good thing is no one was killed. KDP can tackle all the crises financially and reimburse KIU easily similar to identical incident in 2005 for the cost of their offices and communications departments. They can also reimburse these people, who lost their properties, but the solution is not money because the cost is not only money. The bad thing is such an event could damage the region’s reputation internationally.
Emphasizing on condemning such an action by both the authorities and public opinion and revealing who was responsible is essential, but even the more underlying strategic aim should focus more on the image of the Kurdistan region abroad. The U.S. State Department tells American tourists to be cautious not to visit Iraq due to security issues, but according to the British foreign policy, Kurdistan is an outstanding spot. "While the State Department continues to warn American tourists to avoid Iraq entirely, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office says the Kurdistan region is an exception," wrote The New York Times.“ Safety, history and a warm welcome in a stable corner of Iraq.” CNN also on its recent report that indicted the developments of the region defined Kurdistan as the other Iraq, safe, peaceful, and stable. These are all a testament to the safety of the Kurdistan region. I do not want to make the same mistake here to advertise Kurdistan, but I have to provide evidence to verify the information, and despite the existence of corruption, the absence of deep transparency in the executive power, and deficiency in the judiciary and the legislative branch, but those undeniable proofs show the image of the stable region abroad that every individual is responsible to shield it from such a harmful riot.
The Kurdish authority has an incredible opportunity to elevate to a better image. They have to make more efforts to improve and add positive things on the image, and they have to strive to protect the image of that kind of prosperous region. As Michael Rubin mentioned in his article on the incident that KRG’s representatives abroad are more aware of the region’s reputation more than local senior officials. “The Kurdish representative realized more than those on Sar-e Rash the damage it could do to the region’s image abroad.” He wrote. Therefore, their priority should be protecting the image first, and then build on what they have started and achieved since the Kurdish uprising of 1991 because if they cannot protect the image, they will not be able to move forward. This will defiantly be damaging to the process of reconstruction of the region.
Journalists are responsible as much as politicians. There are always two sides to a story. The journalists should not polish their stories and perspectives for the sake of their political affiliations. Professional journalists are those who can think not only the corner, but around the corner as well, those who think and check the facts not only inside the box, but also outside the box wisely.
Stability is an achievement that is different in the region from the other parts of Iraq. It has been a rescued place for high Iraqi opposition leaders since 1990s when the Iraqi opposition parties were based in Kurdistan, and currently, it is becoming a safe haven for Sunni leaders such as Vice President Tareq al Hashemi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Mutlaq. Journalists, politicians and even common people can promote and show the stability as a weapon to attract international companies to invest in the region.
This article first appeared on ekurd.net