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Iraqi Kurdish media guide

BBC Monitoring

The Iraqi Kurdish media scene has mushroomed in the past decade, largely thanks to the semi-autonomous status the region has enjoyed since 1991. Following the first Gulf War and the weakening of the Iraqi army, uprisings erupted in the northern Kurdish area against the then Iraqi government. This eventually led to the withdrawal of the Iraqi government from the area and the establishment of the first ever democratically-elected parliament in the Kurdistan Region in 1992. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) have dominated the parliament since then.

This period witnessed the publication of daily newspapers and satellite TV stations for the first time in the history of the Kurdish media. The overwhelming majority of media outlets are controlled by the political parties. The publication of Hawlati in 2001 marked the emergence of the independent media.

Most of the political parties now! own terrestrial TVs, newspapers and local radio stations. The terrestrial TVs started dubbing cartoon films and documentaries as well subtitling films for the first time, which attracted massive audiences, young and old.

The Kurdish media scene prior to 1991 was restricted to a few government-controlled weeklies, magazines and one terrestrial TV station. Like the rest of the Arabic-language outlets in Iraq of the time, all the media were under very tight government censorship. The sole terrestrial Kurdish TV station used to broadcast many items, including official speeches, films and soap operas, in Arabic.

Going back to the formative stages of the Kurdish media, the Kurdish opposition parties used to run radio stations during the insurrection against the Iraqi government since the 1960s, but these were usually rudimentary and could not reach a wide audience.

One of the chronic problems of the Kurdish media, with the exception of independent newspapers s! uch as Hawlati and Awene, has been the reliance on third party funding rather than sales and advertising. The partisan media are funded by the political parties, while the independent or semi-independent outlets depend on funds from the private sector, the parties, NGOs and advertising.

It is only in the last few years that companies have started adverting their products and services in the media. The mobile phone companies are by far the biggest advertisers.


The press is arguably the most interesting and diverse part of the Kurdish media, owing to the increasing number of independent and semi-independent newspapers and magazines.

The PUK owns two dailies: Kurdistani Nuwe and Arabic-language Al-Ittihad, while it also provides funding to the daily Aso. The KDP runs two dailies: Khabat and Arabic language Al-Ta'akhi.

Former PUK deputy leader Nawshirwan Mustafa's Wisha Company owns daily Rozhnama. The only daily not currently covered by BBC Monitoring (BBCM) is the weekly-cum-daily Kurdistan Report.

There are several other weeklies and twice-weeklies, prominent among them are independent twice-weekly Hawlati, weekly Awene, PUK-funded Chawder and Kurdistan Islamic Union-owned weekly Yekgirtu.

Although adequate statistical data on the popularity of the press is not available, various sources consider Hawlati to be the highest circulation newspaper, printing some 20! ,000 copies.

The press, especially the independent press, tends to focus on local Kurdish issues and is more reliant on its own material than the broadcast media. The independent press has often run into trouble with the authorities because of its tendency to shed light on local issues, something the broadcast media shied away from because of its allegiance to the parties.

One of the reasons for the small readership of the press is the lack of distribution companies. Each newspaper has its own method of distribution and, in many cases, the mobile newspaper sellers and newsagents pick up the newspapers directly from the printing houses. Even inside the big cities, most of the newspaper stands are concentrated in the city centres, or the bazaars, and residents living in the suburban areas need to make a journey to buy a newspaper.

The standard of the design of newspapers and magazines is not very professional because they are designed with very basic desig! n software.

Newspapers cost between 20-30 pence.

Broadcast media

Satellite television: There are three 24-hour satellite TV stations in the region: Kurdistan Satellite TV and Zagros TV are owned by the KDP and the PUK owns KurdSat. Kurdistan Satellite TV is based in Salah-al-Din, north of Arbil, Zagros TV is based in Arbil, while KurdSat TV is based in Sulaymaniyah.

Kurdistan Satellite TV is the oldest among the three, having started broadcasting in 1999. All three are entertainment channels, running very similar programmes using almost the same templates. They run several news bulletins throughout the day, with news about party and government officials topping the newscast. The stations have few reporters of their own, often relying on international news agencies and other media outlets even in their coverage of Iraq.

Some broadcast material is exclusively produced for the stations, while others are produced by local and foreign companies, with translation and dubbing where n! ecessary.

Both Kurdistan Satellite and KurdSat TV run phone-in and debate programmes, interviewing intellectuals and politicians who are not usually very critical of the government or the ruling parties.

All three, especially Kurdistan Satellite TV, broadcast news and programmes on Kurdish culture outside the region. Normally, not much airtime is given to pan-Iraqi issues, unless the Kurdish issue is at stake.

Roj TV is another station monitored by BBCM. It is the only media source covered by BBCM that cannot be categorized under the Iraqi Kurdish media. The station, which was founded in 2004, is based in Brussels, although it gained its broadcasting licence from Denmark. It broadcasts in both Sorani and Kurmanji dialects of Kurdish as well as in Turkish, Arabic and Farsi.

Turkey has for a long time accused the station of being the mouthpiece of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and has repeatedly sought to deprive the station of its licence.

Today, the station reports heavily on the PKK and the Iranian Kurdis h affiliate group, the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK). Particular attention is given to reporting on imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan. The station has more comprehensive pan-Kurdish coverage than its rivals, reporting on the situation of the Kurds in the four countries where they are mostly concentrated - Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria - as well as on the Kurdish diaspora in the West.

Most households in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region have satellite receivers. A satellite dish costs about 90 pounds.

Terrestrial television: There are dozens of terrestrial TV stations in the region, mostly run by the political parties. Most of them are entertainment channels, usually broadcasting in the evenings only.

Radio: There are many local radio stations in the region, again mostly run by the parties. Most of these are entertainment radios which are on air only several hours a day. The major exception to this is Radi! o Nawa, a 24-hour news radio station which went on air in 2005 and can be received throughout the region and on the internet (www.radionawa.com).

Radio Nawa is the first outlet of a larger independent media organization, currently publishing a cultural magazine, running a website and producing music albums. The organization aspires to run a newspaper and a satellite TV in the future. The station introduced phone-in and debate programmes to the radio in the region and boasts a wide range of local reporters.

The station's focus on local issues, its regular half-hourly news updates as well as the shortage of electricity in the region have contributed to the station's rising popularity.

The director of the station, Kurda Jalal, admitted in a recent interview that the station initially received funds from the US military and other organizations "unconditionally", adding that the station was currently funded by himself. Jalal also said the station had al! ready talked with potential buyers, including Wisha Company.

BBC Monitoring does not monitor any Kurdish radio stations.

Internet-based media

The advent of the internet and the development of the online media have given a new dimension to the Kurdish media landscape. These have crucially filled in the gap left by the broadcast media in covering breaking news stories. Similarly important is the platform the internet has provided for the Kurdish diaspora who do not always have access to the print media.

There are only a few Kurdish websites publishing news reports, while many tend to focus on commentaries. A large number of these commentaries can be libellous, opinionated and subjective, ignoring such principles as objectivity, neutrality and balance.

As well as processing reports regularly from the online sources, BBCM produces a fortnightly web monitoring report highlighting the dominant themes and trends on the web.

Almost all the media outlets have their own websites.

Common themes in the media


Relations between the Kurdish parties, especially between the KDP and the PUK, and their activities attract the attention of both the partisan and the independent media. The partisan media tend to highlight developments in relations between the two parties, with projects and activities carried out by the parties and the government given ample coverage. Meanwhile, the independent media often question party policies and projects. The divisive effects of the two parties' 1994-1998 infighting, commonly referred to as "fratricide", can still be felt in the manner in which each party's media portray the other. Changes in the party structure, promotions, demotions and government reshuffles are given particular attention.

Article 140

The fate of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and the predominantly-Kurdish areas outside the region is taken very seriously by the media across the board. The indepen! dent media accuse the Kurdish leadership of inaction regarding the implementation of Article 140 on normalization of the status of Kirkuk and other disputed areas on schedule.

Pan-Kurdish issues

The media regularly report on pan-Kurdish issues, especially the situation of the Kurds in Turkey and Iran, by and large in relation to PKK and PJAK activities. The official media's reporting on this is usually restricted to factual reporting, while the independent media try to make sense of events and analyse their importance.

Ties with the US

US-Kurdish relations crop up in the media, especially with every major development in Iraq and in the region. The non-partisan media have grown more distrustful of that relationship, with some questioning if such a concept as US-Kurdish relations ever existed. This is in contrast to the friendly undertone that dominated the media in the build-up to the 2003! war.


Alleged g overnment and party corruption incidents are yet another repeated theme in the media, with the press and internet-based media regularly questioning officials' assets. The issue has become so widespread now that it is even mentioned in the partisan media, although no one is named and shamed in the latter. Criticism of the government's and officials' performance is very common, especially in the context of the lack of basic services such as electricity and roads. BBCM issues a fortnightly product on media coverage of corruption.

Political Islam

Political Islam's role and popularity in the Kurdistan Region have been a recurring theme in the media, especially in the press and online media. The emergence of the moderate and non-militant Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) as the third most popular party after the PUK and the KDP has played an important role in stirring the debate. The Kurdistan Region, like the rest of the Islamic world, has b! een influenced by the increasing popularity of political Islam which was set in motion in the late 1980s, filling the gap that emerged with the decline of the leftist ideology. The KDP and the PUK have been strongly advocating a secular constitution for Iraq and the Kurdistan Region, calling for the recognition of Islam as a, rather than the, source of legislation, something the Kurdish Islamic parties are not happy about.

Media environment

Although the Kurdish media have thrived in the past decade, the relationship between journalists and government has been a thorny one. Journalists complain of arrests, intimidation and harassment, while the government accuses them of working against national interests. A UN report on the situation of human rights in Iraq in March 2007 said: "The Kurdistan regional government authorities continue to subject journalists to harassment, arrest and legal action for their reporting on government corruption, poor public services or other issues of public interest."

Many journalists faced persecution on alleged defamation charges, as filed by officials. One of these cases involved the Hawlati newspaper and Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani. The rigid Saddam-era media laws, still in effect in the region, often give rise to complaints by journalists.

More recently, PUK-financed daily Aso replaced its editor-in-chief and ran ! an apology for merely publishing an article speculating about the potential successors to Mas'ud Barzani, the head of the KDP. The KDP seems to be less tolerant of reporting on conflicts inside the party and the future of the party.

There has been scant professional media training available in the region. The University of Sulaymaniyah opened a media department a few years ago, which focuses mostly on media theories rather than practical and hands-on training. Some international NGOs, such as the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting, have offered hands-on training to journalists on a limited scale.

The Voice of America is the only internationally renowned media organization with a Kurdish service, broadcasting four hours a day as well as running a Kurdish web page. One of the implications of this is that Kurdish journalists do not have professional role models at the international level to look up to, unlike their neighbouring Arab, Persian and Tu! rkish journalists.

Emergin g sources

The media have been in a constant state of expansion in the past few years. Most of the reports on new sources are about the emergence of new satellite TV stations.

The Kurdistan regional government's Ministry of Culture launched a satellite TV called Newroz in March 2007. The station seems to be a replacement for a terrestrial TV, called Harem, which stopped broadcasting in 2006. The station is still at the stage of test transmissions.

Newroz TV: A Europe-based TV launched in March, mainly targeting Iranian Kurdish audience, in Kurdish and Farsi.

Tishk TV and Rojhelat TV are both run by the Iranian Kurdish opposition.

Wisha Company also is planning to set up a satellite TV station and a radio station.

Both Hawlati and Awene newspapers have said they plan to become dailies.


Following are some of the influential Kurdish outlets.

1. Newspapers and magazines

All the following are monitored by BBCM. Please note that most of the party papers are known by the first word in the party's name, for example the Kurdistan Islamic Group "Komali Islami Kurdistan" newspaper is Komal (The Group):

1. Al-Ittihad (The Union): Baghdad, daily newspaper in Arabic published by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan; www.alitthad.com

2. Khabat (The Struggle): Arbil, daily newspaper in Sorani Kurdish published by the Kurdistan Democratic Party; www.xebat.net

3. Kurdistan Nuwe (The New Kurdistan): Sulaymaniyah, daily newspaper in Sorani Kurdish published by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan; ww.pukmedia.com/html/kurdistaninwe.htm

4. Al-Ta'akhi "(The Fraternity): Baghdad, daily newspaper in Arabic published by the Kurdistan Democratic Party; www.taakhinews.org

5. Hawal (The News): Sulayman! iyah, weekly independent newspaper in Sorani Kurdish; www.hewalnews.org/about.htm

6. Komal (The Group): Sulaymaniyah, weekly newspaper in Sorani Kurdish published by the Iraqi Kurdistan Islamic Group; www.komall.org

7. Roji Gel (The Nation's Sun): Arbil, weekly newspaper in Sorani Kurdish; published by the Kurdistan Liberation Party; www.rpk93.org

8. Hawler Post: Arbil, twice-weekly independent newspaper in Sorani Kurdish, supported by KDP; ww.hewlerpost.com

9. Aso (The Horizon): Kirkuk, daily newspaper in Sorani Kurdish financed by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. www.asoxandan.com/ASO

10. Jamawar (The People): Arbil, weekly independent newspaper in Sorani Kurdish; www.jamawar.org

11. Chawder (The Monitor): Sulaymaniyah, Pro-Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) weekly newspaper in Sorani Kurdish; owned by PUK Political Bureau member Mala Bakhtiyar; www.madaniat.org

12. Yekgirtu (The Union): Arbil, weekly newspaper in Sorani Kurdish! published by the Kurdistan Islamic Union; www.kurdiu.org

13. Al -Ufuq (The Horizon): Arbil, Arabic supplement of weekly newspaper Yekgirtu published by the Kurdistan Islamic Union; www.kurdiu.org

14. Awene (The Mirror): Sulaymaniyah, weekly independent newspaper in Sorani Kurdish; www.awene.com

15. Media (The Medes): Arbil, weekly newspaper in Sorani Kurdish; published by the Democratic National Union of Kurdistan; www.yndk.com

16. Kurdish Globe: Arbil, weekly Pro-Kurdistan Democratic Party newspaper in English; www.kurdishglobe.net

17. Regay Kurdistan (The Kurdistan Path): Arbil, weekly newspaper in Sorani Kurdish published by the Communist Party of Iraqi Kurdistan; www.kurdistancp.org

18. Govari Gulan (Gulan Magazine): Arbil, weekly pro-Kurdistan Democratic Party magazine in Sorani Kurdish; www.gulan-media.net

19. Roji Welat (The Country's Sun): Kirkuk, weekly newspaper in Sorani Kurdish published by the Kurdistan Democratic Solution Party; www.pcdk.com/rojiwelat.html

20. Levin: Sulaymaniyah, m! onthly independent journal in Sorani Kurdish; www.degeken.com

21. Rozhnama (The Newspaper): Sulaymaniyah, daily newspaper in Sorani Kurdish run by the Wisha (Word) Company of former PUK deputy leader Nawshirwan Mustafa; www.rozhnama.com

2. Online: The following sources are monitored by BBCM except for KurdMedia.

1. Sbay (Tomorrow) media website: Run by Wisha Company of former PUK deputy leader Nawshirwan Mustafa; www.sbeiy.com

2. Peyamner (The Reporter), pro KDP website in Sorani Kurdish, Arabic, English, Farsi and Turkish; www.peyamner.com

3. PUK Media: PUK media website in Kurdish and Arabic, www.pukmedia.com

4. Kurdistan regional government website in English, Arabic and Kurdish; http://web.krg.org

5. Dengekan (Voices): Independent media, culture and arts website in Sorani Kurdish; www.dengekan.com

6. KurdMedia: Independent media website in English; www.kurdmedia.com

3. Broadcast: Th! e first three are monitored by BBCM.

1. Kurdistan Satelli te TV: KDP owned satellite TV; http://kurdistantv.net/

2. KurdSat: PUK owned satellite; TV www.kurdsat.tv

3. Roj TV: Brussels-based Kurdish TV

4. Zagros TV: KDP owned Zagros satellite TV; http://www.zagros.tv/

Source: BBC Monitoring research in Sorani Kurdish 16 Oct 07



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