As the parliamentary elections draw near in Iraq, the National Communications and Media Commission of Iraq (CMC), has become more intensively involved in its task of organising communications and broadcasting in
Niqash: Has the commission found violations in the work of the media?
Shawi: Actually, there are many violations. Even the security forces in Iraq don't know how to control the situation, with many companies not even registered. For example, there are companies that have no license from any official department, distributing and marketing devices with frequencies that could disrupt earth and mobile communications. Now, the commission and its specialized technical board have started to take the necessary steps with regard to such violations and to come up with solutions for organizing communications and media.
Niqash: Does the commission possess sophisticated equipment to help in detecting violations in frequencies?
Shawi: Now we have special cars which can detect radio jamming. These cars were donated to the commission by the multinational forces in 2005, but we only started using them three months ago. We sent one to Hilla and Kerbela, and we discovered that there are more than 20 stations we had never heard of before and which are not even listed in the commission’s registry of unlicensed stations. We also discovered that there are stations using frequencies which might affect aeroplanes. The “Holy Quran,” station, located at the al-Hussain Holy Shrine in Kerbela, uses a civil frequency that aircraft use, and it is not even registered, while Baghdad Municipality radio reaches as far as Hillah and Kerbela. In Hillah, there is a certain group penetrating the security forces’ frequencies and using them. All this is happening in provinces that are not very far away from the capital. It is still hard to know what is happening in the more distant areas of Iraq.
Niqash: What investment opportunities are currently available in communications and media?
Shawi: Now there is the “Media Cities” project, similar to the Dubai Media City. There is also IraqSat, a project to manufacture an Iraqi satellite, which would cost around $300 – 400 million. Since Iraqi satellite stations pay carriers such as ARABSAT, Nilesat, Hotbird, and Galaxy anything between a quarter to a half of this sum, this project is economically viable since it reduces the cost burden for satellite companies, especially with contribution from the government and telecommunication companies. Also, broadcasting spectrum packets in Iraq are not totally used. There are packets under the US control that are now being returned to the Iraqi authorities, as per the US-Iraq security pact and these are now being offered for investment. These packets are of 3 kinds: military, technical and civil. The civil packet is available for investment. There is a possibility of granting a fourth company a license for the third generation mobile phones given the overlap between media and communications, following the Mobision model.
Niqash: Are the revenues generated under your own control or are they under government control?
Shawi: From 2005-2006, the commission kept 10% of the revenues it raised. By ministerial decree, since 2007 all revenues have gone to the treasury. In that year, a ministerial committee, headed by the minister of finance, was formed to supervise the licenses. Despite the fact that the license agreement is legally between the mobile company and the commission, it was this committee that was issuing the license. The committee controlled the work of mobile phone companies until 26/6/2009, when Resolution 165 of the Council of Ministers dissolved it. All its powers functions, including collecting monies from mobile phone companies were transferred to the NCMCI. At that time, a board of trustees had not yet been formed, and there was no executive director. At the end of July 2009, The Council of Ministers appointed me an executive director of the commission, and other members were appointed at the same time.
Niqash: What are the commission’s revenues and what is your percentage contribution in the overall budget?
Shawi: We make a big contribution to the government treasury. The commission ranks second after the Ministry of Oil, in generating revenues, and ahead of the Ministry of Transport. We supply the government with monthly income from our contracts with communication and media bodies, for instance, the licensing contracts of the three mobile companies. These contracts have paid out $4 million over the last two years. Each mobile company still owes a final installment of $625 million. There are also the fines which these companies will have to pay as penalty for the delay in settling the third payment, which comes to 4%, i.e. $45 million to be paid by each. Finally, there are penalties imposed on the three companies for poor service. The total debt mobile and wireless companies owe the commission comes to around $1.800.000 and we are attempting to collect these amounts.
Niqash: Don’t you think that if the commission received a portion of the revenues generated, it would be more independent and protected against any political influence?
Shawi: I believe that it would have been much better if the commission’s share of the revenues was at least 10% out of the billions of dollars generated every year. In addition to the mobile companies, Zain contributes 18% and Asiacell and Korek of 15% each, i.e a total of $10Kmillion $10 million from Zain, and more than $2 million and $1.5 million from Asiacell and Korek respectively. However, none of this money is paid to the commission, but instead it all goes to the central government.
Niqash: Would this income enable the commission to support independent media and develop printed newspapers?
Shawi: This is how things should be and this is one of the aims of the commission and the justification for its creation. However, there are problems related to the law governing the commission, which has to be endorsed by parliament. If this law is passed, the commission will become administratively and constitutionally independent. This will also determine how much money the commission receives. When the ministerial committee was formed and started granting licenses, the idea was that all the money should go to the state treasury which in turn submits its budget to the government in the same way other state institutions do. We are in this situation because there is still no law approved by the parliament to regulate our work and thus, the commission is still under the supervision of the Council of Ministers.