Iraqis Build Commercial Independent National News Agency
Behind the blast walls and checkpoints that carve through Baghdad, above a street lined with long-shuttered international airline offices and dusty antiquarians, an independent Iraqi news agency has come to life. The authoritative, professional coverage supplied by the National Iraqi News Agency (NINA) will help Iraqi media outlets provide their audiences with impartial, accurate information. Owned and operated by Iraqi media professionals, NINA debuted at www.ninanews.com in conjunction with the Iraqi constitutional referendum on October 15.
Opening a new news agency would be challenging anywhere, but the NINA team, backed by IREX through USAID’s Iraq Civil Society and Media Support Program, faced unusual hurdles. Electricity comes from a roaring generator installed on the sidewalk. Curfews, travel bans and the insecurity of moving about after dark corral the staff. As well, journalists need to either undo years of absolute conformity to the limits of a state propaganda agency or learn from scratch the requirements of being a professional news reporter.
By its second day, NINA had produced several dozen news items, including the first results from the national referendum. As it develops, NINA will offer news and feature articles in Arabic on the country’s political, economic, business and social life. Editors at the Baghdad headquarters are using cutting-edge news processing technology to write, edit, and transmit articles. Fulltime correspondents in Erbil, Hilla and Basra contribute to coverage, along with freelance reporters elsewhere in the country.
NINA is designed as a commercial enterprise that will become sustainable by selling its news products in Iraq and abroad to media outlets, governmental and nongovernmental organizations, international agencies and others seeking trusted information. Initial delivery via the Internet will be replaced by state-of-the-art wireless broadband technology (WiFi), making transmission and reception of NINA’s services secure and independent.
NINA was registered in July 2005 by a group of Iraqi journalists led by Dr Farid Ayar, a member of the Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission and himself a veteran reporter who left the state Iraqi News Agency in the early 1990s and later became secretary-general of the Federation of Arab News Agencies (FANA). Ayar returned to Baghdad as soon as Saddam Hussein was deposed and, in April 2005, began developing NINA in collaboration with IREX’s director of media programs in Iraq, Joe Raffelberg.
"I have worked on Middle East media development projects since 1995 when Dr Ayar asked me to help reform FANA agencies so that they could sell their news products,’’ Raffelberg said. “Now I had a chance in his native Iraq to support him in realizing his dream of establishing an independent and commercial news agency to provide professional, accurate and balanced coverage of events, developments and ideas in his great country. Hopefully, FANA will admit NINA soon as a member, for a successful Iraqi news vendor could contribute to the opening up of official news agencies across the region."
Independent national news agencies exist in many nations and form the backbone of democratic media systems, supplying indispensable source material to print and broadcast media. Iraq’s state-controlled official news agency disbanded with the fall of the regime. NINA represents an important advance in improving the quality of information available to Iraqi citizens as well as a window on the country for international audiences.
To build the NINA team, IREX sent IT Manager Ali Ahmed to Montenegro for training on WiFi transmission and the news processing software. The editorial system NINA is using was developed by the Montenegro Independent News Agency (MINA), itself the successful result of the Montenegro Independent Media Program, supported by USAID and directed by Raffelberg, a veteran Reuters news agency manager.
IREX consultant Matthias Wirzberger provided assistance in planning for NINA’s technical needs, including equipping the newsroom and building the transmission network. Mr. Wirzberger was a chief editor at the East German ADN agency during its privatization and has worked on news service projects in Kosovo and Montenegro. Drusilla Menaker, IREX Senior Media Advisor and former Associated Press bureau chief, provided training in Iraq for NINA journalists and editors to expand their news agency reporting and editing skills and enhance their understanding of international media standards.
Future plans for NINA include an English-language service and expanded coverage of business and economics news from Iraq, including the country’s key oil and oil products industry. A commercial arm also will be developed to provide a revenue stream through the sale of communications capacity.