jo on Tue, 4 May 2004 07:09:48 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Baghdad newspaper Al Sabah cuts Pentagon ties

Iraqi staff quits US funded Al-Sabah newspaper Journalists announce launch
of new independent newspaper May 3, 2004
 The journalists and other staff of Iraq's biggest daily newspaper,
Al-Sabah, have decided to step out of the Iraqi Media Network and start a
new, politically and financially independent daily newspaper, AL-SABAH
AL-JEDID. The decision came after more than a month of fruitless attempts
to convince the US media contractor Harris Corp to let Al-Sabah have its
independence as agreed one year ago and after a series of measures to
take over the newspaper. Yesterday May 2 a last ditch attempt to obtain a
settlement failed. Harris and CPA didn't agree to make the newspaper
independent. The newspaper's editorial committee of journalists voted to
cut all links with the IMN. Harris came to the newspaper late in the
evening and removed the text of this decision of the editorial committee
from the front page. After the journalists heard about this, a first in
the history of the newspaper, they went back to the newspaper and changed
the front page again. We shall announce the place and time for a press
conference for tomorrow (May 4) later today. We count on the support of
all democratic journalists in this country, Iraqi and foreign.
Breach of agreement
Our choice has been in the making since March 20, when decree 66 on Iraq's
Public Service Broadcasting was published. Without any consultation with
the journalists and other staffers who created Al-Sabah after the last
war, Harris Corp, the American contractor hired to rebuild Iraq's radio
and television, convinced the CPA to include Al-Sabah in decree 66, which
means making it forever part of the Iraqi Media Network. This was a breach
of the agreement with CPA's first chief, general Jay Garner, that Al-Sabah
should become financially independent as soon as possible, an agreement
that was confirmed in successive meetings with the people responsible in
the CPA for the development of the Iraqi mass media and with SAIC, Harris'
predecessor. Political independence was assured from the beginning,
because Al-Sabah wanted to be an example for other non-governmental,
non-partisan, and professionally produced democratic newspapers in Iraq.
For that reason, Al-Sabah set out, successfully, to gain contracts and
advertisements that would provide extra income for the newspaper. At the
end of 2003, it created a website (, which also became a
success story, with now over sixty million hits. When on February 14, 2004
Harris took over from its predecessor SAIC, Al-Sabah was ready to stand on
its own feet and we told Harris so. In the last days of SAIC in Baghdad, a
new printing press was bought to replace the 25 years old machines of the
former regime. With that pr inting press Al-Sabah could start its life
without any further financial support.
 To our surprise Harris Corp did everything to prevent Al-Sabah from
becoming independent and tried to sell us the idea that Al-Sabah would be
independent as part of the IMN. On paper, Iraqi television and radio have
been declared independent through decree 66, and with them, on Harris'
request, Al-Sabah. In reality the so-called Iraqi Public Service
Broadcasting will be not only dependent on foreign funding but run by a
foreign company that has refused from the beginning any transparency in
its dealings with Iraqi entities. Al-Sabah newspaper can also not accept
to be under the control of a Board of Governors appointed first by
governor Bremer, and later Iraq's prime minister, let alone accept, as
decree 66 stipulates, that the Director General of the IMN will also be
the formal editor in chief of Al-Sabah. This structure, developed by the
CPA's media advisor Simon Haselock, who tried to do something similar in
Kosovo, is not a recipe for independence and success, it is a recipe for
failure and resentment, because it doesn't let the Iraqis do their own
thing and learn. If Al-Sabah could learn to stand on its own feet, why
not Iraqi television and radio? When Harris will leave after two years
and foreign donors pull the plug, the Iraqi media will have to reinvent
themselves completely.
Harris-Fewares in Al-Sabah
How it is to have Harris running the IMN, we have already experienced in
Al-Sabah. Fewares, the Kuwaiti company working with Harris, simply slowly
takes over the editorial, political and financial management of Al-Sabah,
without any negotiations, laying out no division of labour, no guidelines,
without any editorial policy document or whatever. The Palestinian
representative from Fewares felt free to censor advertisements, called
journalists to criticize their articles without consulting the editor in
chief, brought in foreign accountants and was turning the building into a
fortress, as if this was going to provide better security than the
independence of Al-Sabah. He tried to seduce people to stay with
Fewares/Harris by offering them, only verbally by the way, higher wages,
training outside the country and other niceties, while Harris until now
didn't solve any of the problems regarding the journalists' social rights
(pensions etc.). We found it outrageous that the Fewares representative
ordered the FPS guards to search cars and hand bags of journalists and not
to let anything being taken out of the newspaper without his permission.
No transparency, no legal settlement
We have asked several times to see the contract of Harris with the
Pentagon, to understand what money is allocated for Al-Sabah and what is
its precise assignment. Harris refused to show it to us. We just had to
believe that they are licensed to do what they are doing, including
confiscating all the property of Al-Sabah. No contract was offered to
Al-Sabah or any of its journalists, including the editor in chief; by this
Harris tries to ignore that Al-Sabah is an Iraqi creation, only partly
funded by US money. The journalists of Al-Sabah have discussed long and
hard if we had to make a new newspaper or leave IMN with our successful
baby and claim its name. It is painful to have to leave our child in the
hands of Harris, a company that has contributed nothing to the political,
journalistic and commercial success it is. Harris has prepared itself to
take over Al-Sabah with all the property that never belonged to the IMN
and was never paid for by US subsidies, only by our hard work, with
working weeks of up to sixteen hours a day, seven days a week. This makes
it very bitter to give up Al-Sabah. Al-Sabah has also faced an occupation
by former employees of the Ministry of Information. No one has taken care
to pay these people some form of unemployment benefits. Some of these
employees are considering Al-Sabah as a newspaper that with help of
Americans took "their" building and presses. The people in Al-Sabah have
always resisted the idea that the IMN/Harris can just take any former
government building, printing presses, broadcasting facilities etcetera
and we have asked for a legal settlement with the Governing Council and
the ministries concerned. As nothing happened, although there is a CPA
order and procedure in place to claim and transfer Iraqi government and
former Baath Party buildings, we decided we wanted to work in a place and
rent a building that does not belong to the government.
Political situation changed
The battles in Falluja and other Iraqi cities too changed the situation
for Al-Sabah's personnel. The newspaper's journalists and even drivers and
printers could not cope any longer with the numerous death threats they
have been receiving. They feared for their lives. Five times attempts to
bomb the newspaper's building in Al-Qahera have been foiled, but what will
happen the next time? Although we were a patriotic, even-handed newspaper,
we have to take into account the reality that Al-Sabah is regarded,
rightly, as a US funded newspaper, and wrongly, as the voice of the CPA
and/or the Governing Council. We believe that just becoming financially
independent will not be good enough to change the image of Al-Sabah and
thus protect the lives of our staff. People who never liked our newspaper
will continue to say that Al-Sabah is a newspaper created under
occupation, that its journalists 'came on American tanks' or that it is
only successful because American and Iraqi officials are giving it all the
time exclusive news. We can do nothing against this continuous
mud-throwing and moral blackmail. In the Iraqi political landscape
Al-Sabah has more friends than enemies but after the signing of decree 66
the point is that we have no guarantees whatsoever that someone in the IMN
deeply cares about us and can protect us. Decree 66 has laid down the
legal basis for political dependence and endless government intervention
in Al-Sabah and has taken away the basis for financial independence and
sufficient funding. We fail to understand how the CPA's media advisor, a
man from the West, can think this is better than a really independent
Al-Sabah. Do the journalists in Al-Sabah still need lessons on how to be
objective, fair, truthful, professional, nonviolent, courageous,
hard-working? We have been all of this and we are continuously working on
our shortcomings, like all media that never want to be complacent. But we
became a big newspaper because we tried hard to be an example in Iraq, not
because of American funding.
Newspapers have to be sold.
Al-Sabah did sell well and could have been even bigger now, if SAIC or
Harris had managed to bring in just one new printing press. Legal action
For all these reasons we have decided to walk out of Al-Sabah, establish a
new newspaper AL-SABAH AL-JEDID, and bring the CPA as well as Harris and
Fewares, if necessary, to court in order to: 1. claim all the property of
Al-Sabah 2. claim all the printing contracts Al-Sabah has obtained 3.
claim the name of Al-Sabah newspaper as ours 4. claim the printing press
that SAIC bought for Al-Sabah 5. demand compensation for the money spent
on the rehabilitation of the building and printing presses 6. obtain a
copy of the contract of Harris Corp with the Pentagon, as well as a copy
of the contract of Fewares with Harris and a copy of the registration of
the IMN as an Iraqi company after the IMN had been established as such by
decree 66. We invite the printers and other staff that belonged to the
building where Al-Sabah has been printed to claim their social rights in a
separate case against the IMN/Harris. New newspaper We strive to have the
first issue of Al-Sabah al-jedid in the market on May 4. According to
decree 65 no license is needed in Iraq to establish a newspaper. As CPA
has made it legally impossible to create employee-owned companies in Iraq
(in case of more than 25 owners), we shall create a limited company with
an internal profit-sharing system. Editor in chief will be, again, Ismael
Zayer (1947). Fact sheet about the 'old' Al-Sabah: Number of staff: 270
(including the printers) - Number of journalists: 60 - Number of
freelancers and non-staff authors: over 100 First issue: May 17, 2003
Circulation: 75,000 Average number of pages: 16, of which between 2-4
pages with advertising US funding: around 8,500 $ per day for 75,000
copies, and 10,000 $ per month for the wages of around 90 people; the
printing house staff was completely paid by Al-Sabah. Distribution: in all
the national territory Cost price of one issue: 155 ID Sales price: 250 ID

Jo van der Spek
tel +31.20.6718027
mob. +31.651069318

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