More than a hundred Iraqi demonstrators were killed, as many as six thousand wounded and many news organisations attacked in a set of protests that started small but escalated quickly. Social media can have that effect.

Since the US-led invasion in 2003, Iraqi journalists have usually attributed unrest on the streets to sectarianism – the divide between primarily Shia and Sunni Muslims. They can not do that this time. Iraqi protesters are demanding an overhaul of the political system.

Given the scale of the protests, it is little wonder that politicians, the security forces they control and the media outlets they own are closing ranks to protect the status quo.

But Iraqi protesters, determined to have their movement covered, turn to a comedy programme rather than a news broadcast to tell their story. They sent footage of the deadly security response to the Albasheer Show, a comedy programme hosted by Ahmed Albasheer, which airs on German broadcaster Deutsche Welle’s Arabic service.

“The Albasheer Show is a platform for the Iraqi people. He is always addressing their concerns and especially at a time when Iraqi channels have been prohibited from showing the reality of Iraq, from showing the protests, his coverage has been crucial,” journalist Azhar al-Rubaie tells Al Jazeera.

Albasheer airs his criticism in the programme, arguing that the people on the streets need to be heard.

Renad Mansour of the Chatham House Iraq Initiative comments on Albasheer saying: “His biggest criticism is: where is our media? Why are they showing cartoons? Why are they showing cooking shows?”

He adds: “I mean this is probably one of the biggest moments in post-2003 Iraq, and mainstream media isn't really covering it. His point was we don't have a free and fair media, mainstream media in our country.”

Aida al-Kaisy, of the London School of Economics’ conflict research programme, explains there are major challenges to producing objective news in Iraq.

“There is no political will in Iraq for an independent media because what an independent media will do is expose corruption on a grand scale,” she says.

“It'll also give voice to marginalised groups in Iraq who haven't necessarily been given a platform that might call to question the current political system.”

Until 2003 and the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi media landscape was barren, consisting of just one TV channel, four radio stations and five newspapers – all state-controlled. Satellite dishes were illegal.

As the country transitioned out of the Hussein era, dozens of new broadcast outlets went to air that the US led-coalition authority said would safeguard the country’s new democracy.

All it took to acquire a licence to broadcast was the money to buy one. But very few Iraqis could afford one. Those who could tended to come with political connections.

A decade and a half later, what has resulted is a new landscape, politically partisan owners and channels more devoted to their owners’ interests than those of the viewer.

Bilal Wahab, fellow at The Washington Institute, argues that partisan media outlets designed to cover protests against sectarian political parties could not take a side with these protests and did not know how to handle them.

“This is the protest of a majority Shia youth against a majority Shia-led government. So they didn't know what to do. So they decided just not to cover it,” he says.

“So, in a way, the system failed. Like, you know, system error.”


Aida al-Kaisy - senior teaching fellow, SOAS

Bilal Wahab - fellow, The Washington Institute

Renad Mansour - research fellow, MENA Programme, Chatham House

Azhar Rubaie - journalist

Source: Al Jazeera News