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It’s tough to teach journalism in Iraq

Guy Berger's picture

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Peter Laufer plays radio-host in a fun-workshop that tapped the views of Iraqi journalism teachers.

Imagine journalism classes in temperatures of 45 degrees celsius. That’s the experience of in Baghdad where power failures cripple classroom fans.

In March this year, the campus radio station at the University of Baghdad stopped broadcasting because a sand-storm demolished the transmission tower.

These, though, are the least of the problems.

When they graduate, Iraqi students face a media industry that’s extremely politicised – making it hard for them to practice journalism rather than propaganda.

“There are uncountable numbers of political factions, each with its own media,” says Prof Adnan Ahmed of Baghdad University. The result is that many students have to reconcile their training with having to follow the line of the faction that hires them.

The role of the media is also complex. “When I see five dead bodies on my way to work, the media needs to reflect that reality to me”, says Ahmed.

But a caution came from an educator from the University of Salahaddin, Arbil-Kurdistan, Dr Azad Ramazan Ali. He noted that reporting violence can also reinforce the purposes of the perpetrators.

So, what’s an Iraqi j-teacher supposed to propose to students?

These points emerged at a lively UNESCO-organised workshop in Amman, Jordan, for 20 Iraqi journalism educators over June 21-23.

There are other challenges in Iraq. “Our students used to be beaten for speaking in public, so our curriculum needs to address their confidence issues,” said Dr Radwan Badini also the University of Salahaddin.

His is a region that only enjoyed its first Kurdish radio language broadcast in 1963, and suffered hugely under the regime of Saddam Hussein. Salahaddin has developed its journalism curriculum drawing from USA, France, Germany and Russia, but it also specifically includes a course on “Kurdology”.

Badini says the school faces a shortage of teachers. Candidates are either former journalists without a media degree, or young academics without media experience. At his university, the Media Faculty is just five years old, but nevertheless graduating 50 students this year.

In the region as a whole, according to educationalist Ramzi Ataya, higher education in general is bedevilled by being highly centralised, and textbooks are done by the government or need approval if privately supplied.

Against this background, the purpose of the workshop was to discuss improving in the journalism curriculum, using UNESCO’s model curriculum as a source for ideas.

The Iraqi academics at the workshop were insistent that they were not empty vessels, and that their existing curriculae were already comprehensive. The UNESCO system came under criticism for gaps like broadcast, photojournalism and public relations courses.

Reflecting their local conditions, the delegates also felt a need for guidelines for teaching students how to do journalism in conflict zones.

But there was also some recognition of value to be extracted from the UNESCO courses – for example, their logical sequence on the one hand, and the syllabus to teach senior students how to deal with statistics.

A group of the Iraqi educators will now work on filling the gaps and report back to the group in October. Chances are they will produce materials that not only raise their impact in Iraq, but which could also be exported to journalism educators elsewhere.

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Educators at the workshop: Abdalameer al Faisal, Azad Ramazan Ali, and Sadiq Sargaty

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