Blank Pages: Financial Crisis Kills Off Iraqi Kurdish Media, Endangers Fourth Estate
Before the current financial and security crisis, some of the media in Iraqi Kurdistan had been thriving. Now, as circulation and advertising revenue drops, they're struggling to stay afloat – and endangering any gains made by independent media in the region over the past decade.
The publisher of the Hawlati newspaper, generally regarded as the first independent newspaper in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, can demonstrate how tight things are financially – he needs only show off his back page. It is almost empty of advertising except for one promoting the newspaper itself.
“Before this financial crisis, companies were racing to get a space on this page and we were selling the space at very high prices,” says Hawlati's publisher Tariq Fateh, referring to the financial problems the northern region is facing due to what has been referred as Baghdad's financial blockade of Iraqi Kurdistan. “Now nobody wants to advertise.”
Over the past three years Hawlati has typically allocated three out of its 24 pages to advertising. However this has recently halved, with only one and a half pages now carrying ads, most of which are more like classified ads – things like court announcements and lost and found notices – that the newspaper cannot charge as much for as commercial advertising.
“We're trying to minimize our costs – both for staff and for printing,” Fateh says. “We need IQD70 million [around US$56,000] to be able to continue publishing the newspaper but we are not making that much, which means we are incurring a loss each month. In the past we used to sell 3,000 copies but today we're only selling 1,500,” he adds.