Iraq’s media regulator calls for greater press freedoms

Ali Al-Mawlawi, Iraqi Institute for Economic Reform

18 May 2010

The head of Iraq’s Communications and Media Commission (CMC) has announced plans to hold a major conference in partnership with the Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council as part of efforts to abolish laws that are incompatible with press freedoms.

Dr Burhan Al-Shawi explained that the CMC, an independent authority that is solely responsible for licensing and regulating telecommunications and media in Iraq, also seeks to propose new laws that guarantee greater rights to media professionals. Al-Shawi said that Iraq was in need of legislation that entitles journalists broader access to information, as well as stronger mechanisms to hold media professionals accountable to ensure responsible and accurate journalism.

Iraq has yet to pass a freedom of information law, which is seen as a crucial step towards promoting transparency, guaranteeing access to public documents and combating corruption. Earlier this month, UNESCO held a conference in Baghdad to coincide with World Press Freedom Day, and in an open letter to the Iraqi government, over 1000 journalists and media workers called on the passage of freedom of information legislation that meets international standards and best practices.

Al-Shawi also revealed that the CMC, which acts as a converged regulator similar to the American Federal Communications Commission (FCC), was making 50 million dollars per month in revenues. The CMC is a stakeholder in major mobile and internet network providers operating in Iraq, including Zain, Asiacell and Kalimat. It has now become the second largest revenue generator for the state after the Ministry of Oil. Al-Shawi pointed out that the CMC is entitled to invest 10 percent of its revenues in research and development, with the remaining profits going to the state treasury.

Experts suggest that the CMC model could not only be a significant source of finance for Iraq’s reconstruction needs, but it could serve as a model for other countries in the Middle East to follow. Although the CMC was established by Paul Bremer in 2004 under Coalition Provisional Authority Order 65, Al-Shawi believes that the lack of adequate legislation and staff shortages are limiting the Commission’s potential growth and impact.

Ali Al-Mawlawi, [email protected]

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