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Sofia Barbarani: being journalist in Kurdistan
   
 
 
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Sofia Barbarani: being journalist in Kurdistan

 
Thursday, 21 November 2013 08:22
 
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Epos converses with Sofia Barbarani

by Nicolamaria Coppola (EPOS)
EPOS Conversations

Iraq's Kurdistan Region is an autonomous region of northen Iraq. The political parties of Iraqi Kurdistan have ruled and administered the region under their territorial control since 1991, when the administration and military forces of the Government of Iraq withdrew from the north of the country and the region gained a de facto autonomy. Since 1992, the Kurdistan Regional Government has been established in Erbil. The President of Iraqi-Kurdistan is Massoud Barzani; the current Prime Minister is Nechirvan Barzani.

In the aftermath of the 2003 invasion, Iraq underwent a media boom: hundreds of new publications, television and radio stations sprang up across the country, and in the autonomous region of Kurdistan independent media flourished.

According to the latest official data released by the Kurdistan Journalists Syndicate and referred to 2010 (no further updates have been released in the last three years), since 2003 over 850 media outlets, including 415 newspapers and magazines, have been founded and some 5000 journalists are officially registered with the Journalists Syndicate.

The media landscape in Iraqi Kurdistan is evolving fast, and new media organisations continue to be formed. Groups can open new media outlets without any particular bureaucratic difficulties. Obtaining a print media license has been facilitated since 2007 after the adoption of the Law of Journalism in Kurdistan. Chapter II specifies the procedure to be followed: for TV stations and radio stations, a licence must be obtained from the Iraqi Ministry of Culture, acting in collaboration with the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Communications. The cost of a licence is 500.000 dinars per year (303 euros) for a radio station, 1 million dinars per year (607 euros) for a local TV station and 7.5 million dinars (4.560 euros) per year for a satellite cable station.

In the last few years, a growing number of journalists from all around the world has been moving to Iraqi-Kurdistan to work as freelance journalists, or as correspondents for Western broadcasters, or as staff-members of the increasing number of new publications, television and radio stations which are widespreading in the region.

Sofia Barbarani is a young Italian journalist. She lives in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous region of Kurdistan, and at the moment she is working both as a journalist for BasNews, a local news agency, and as a freelance journalist.

EPOS has interviewed this talented woman: she has talked about her career, her experience as a journalist here in Kurdistan, also pointing out her opinion about the status quo of journalism in the region.

Nicolamaria Coppola: Dear Sofia, first of all thank you for graciously accepting our interview. Could you please introduce yourself?

Sofia Barbarani: I am Italian, raised in several countries and educated in the United Kingdom. Following an MA in Middle East and Mediterranean Studies (King’s College) my interest in Kurdistan grew. I then went on to do an MA in International Journalism (City University London) which I finished in July. I combined the two interests and decided to move to the Kurdistan Region. While my interest is primarily Kurdistan, my academic focus is on Zionism and Jewish-Israeli identity. The concept of a stateless people, and the construction of a nation state, has always fascinated me.

NC: What is your experience as a journalist in Kurdistan? How long have you been working here?

SB: I was in Erbil in April 2013 for a month, working for local media outlet "Rudaw". Once I completed my MA in London, I moved back to the region, and have been here since 8 October freelancing and working for local news agency, "BasNews".

Kurdistan is an ideal destination for journalists, and the number of freelancers passing by is increasing. It has a fascinating and troubled past, it is undergoing big changes, and it neighbours what is arguably one of the more complex modern day conflicts. My experience has been largely positive. Kurdish media is still growing and has a long road ahead, and Kurds are fully aware of this.

I do not think it is realistic to expect a state that has undergone decades of oppression and genocide to waltz into democracy. As a freelancer I have been greatly helped by BasNews and the contacts they have provided me with, working with locals gives you a great insight into their media. There are not many international journalists based in Erbil, and all I have ever experienced is a lot of helping hands and potential competition going out of their way to help you out. It is very different to other cities.

NC: What does “doing journalism in Kurdistan” for a young foreign woman like you mean?

SB: Being female and foreign is a double-edged sword. Like anywhere in the world, female journalists often have to elbow their way through the crowd. While this is true about Kurdistan and its primarily male journalists (both inernational and local) being female can also open doors. It is easier for a woman to get to stories that involve other women, for example. In my experience, people are more prone to open up to women, and that is an invaluable asset for a journalist.

NC: How has the Kurdish media landscape changed in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion?

SB: Saddam Hussein had tight control over media, particulalry when it came to the ‘rebellious’ Kurds. Many Kurdish journalists had to flee the country to save their lives. Anything Kurdish-related in the media was viewed as a threat; some draw parallels with Turkish media and their own Kurds. A key change that took place following the US invasion was the ‘privatisation’ of media outlets. Before 2003 Kurdish publications worked primarily as mouthpieces for different parties, today they operate in a less bias way. This, of course, is argued against by many who claim that the blatant political affiliations affect neutral reporting.

NC: The Law of Journalism in Kurdistan approved in 2008 constitutes a substantial improvement in terms of press freedom. It is one of the most progressive law in the Middle East and tends to protec journalists and the operators of information giving them full freedom of speech. Can the law effectivly protect journalists or it is just a formal law without a real application?

SB: Kurdistan is a neo-democracy, and many societal and political aspects are still ‘under construction’ (to use a term that resonates with the whole region). While the law is a step in the right direction, many fear it has not been implemented. Media outlets in the region are extensions of political parties, which inevitably limits the individual journalist’s freedom. But this is not unique to Kurdistan, take a look at developed democracies, and you will find the same problem. Local journalists that I have spoken to have said they feel disilusioned with the treatment of journalists, and claim there is no real application of the law. As a foreign journalist, I have yet to encounter any kind of censorship.

NC: There are two major media hubs in Iraqi Kurdistan: Erbil and Sulaymaniyah. What are the differences between this two cities in terms of press freedom?

SB: Slemani is known for its modern outlook and open mentality. While it is true that Erbil is more conservative, I have personally not come across huge differences in terms of press freedom. The perception is that Slemani is more free, in all aspects including press, the reality is that there is imited space for local journalists to manouvre, and they are often restricted by the company’s political affiliation, both in Slemani and in Erbil.

You can follow Sofia Barbarani on Twitter, @SofiaBarbarani

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DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect EPOS WorldView’s editorial policy

Last modified on Monday, 18 August 2014 15:12
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