Iraq and Egypt – Virtual New Media Training for Iraqis Continues Amidst Protests
As protests escalated in Cairo and across Egypt the last week of January, with phone and internet soon to be cut off, a Cairo-based blogger changed plans and reverted to his cell phone to present a long-planned webinar to over a dozen Iraqi journalists gathered in Irbil, Iraq as part of a longer training to discuss the role of new media for professional and citizen journalists.
Amidst demonstrations, a well-known Egyptian blogger and journalist told the Iraqi participants that new media not only allowed citizens to inform the world of events and issues in their country, but also provided “democratic tools” that allowed people to mobilize and demand their rights.
Dina Najemaldin, a 22-year old student from Baghdad, said the course had enabled and inspired her to create a blog and write to promote women rights in Iraq’s post-Saddam fragile democracy. “Women’s current participation in the government is extremely low,” said Ms. Najemaldin. “I will campaign for that in my blog, twitter and Facebook.”
The webinar, part of an IREX Iraq training on how journalists can better use new and social media, also featured two Egyptian trainers working with the journalists in Irbil, Moustafa Ayad, and Maryam Ishani, both anxiously watching events back home. Both returned to Egypt, reporting and blogging on events in Egypt as demonstrations escalated.
Ayad said that teaching Iraqis of how to use new media would not only increase socialization among Iraqis, but also allow the outside world to have a more accurate picture of the war-torn Iraq. “It is about telling stories about Iraqis by Iraqis, as the people who know their country the best.”
But he also noted that new media was not an alternative to traditional media, such as newspapers, radio and television, but rather offered citizens and journalists complementary tools. "We are seeing a hybrid media system,” said Ayad, adding that Iraq’s Facebook users were estimated at 500,000. “They are both feeding each other. Twitter cannot exist without traditional media.”
Ishani added that the participants also learned how to write better stories on-line. “We taught them how to be critics of their own work,” said Ishani. “If you become a blogger, you will be your own editor and reporter.”
The events in Egypt demonstrated to the Iraqi journalists not only the power of new media tools, but also traditional and new media complemented each other in telling the story of events in Egypt. “After demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt, I, as an Iraqi, now know how important it is to learn these tools,” said a Tikrit-based 29-year old journalist participating in the training.
IREX implements the Media and Technology for Community Development Program through a grant from the US Department of State, Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.