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Election Victory for Iraqi Media

Mayada Daood
No sooner had the frenzied electoral campaign ended and the candidates removed their banners and posters, than endless stories inundated the Iraqi street about the problems faced by some candidates, who failed to…
16.03.2010  |  Basra

Although the amounts spent by individual candidates or their poltical groups may be shrouded in inexplicable mysteries, the size of advertisements in the daily newspapers and on satellite TV networks reveal that the expenditures were enormous.

“My list is one of the financially least privileged of all the political groups,” said Jamal Al-Batikh, a leading figure in the Iraq Bloc, “Especially compared to the ruling authority's parties, which flooded the streets with all types of advertising posters and banners, and controlled and manipulated the official satellite TV stations to serve their interests.

“All my list’s candidates financed their own electoral campaigns from their own resources and did not receive any financial aid from the list,” he continued.

Speaking about the Iraqi Bloc's campaign, Al-Batikh said, “The advertising was solely reserved for the list chief, while the majority of the candidates were low-profile officials, who were content with little and less costly advertising methods.”

These groups, he continued, could not afford adequate electoral advertising to support their campaigns, similar to the support provided to other candidates. One candidate claimed that airing his campaign over one of the Arab satellite stations would cost US$2 million.

“It is commonly believed that 80 percent of the electoral campaign cost will be reserved for TV advertising, with the rest spent on newspapers and posters,” said Qasim Jabbar of the State of Law coalition media executive committee.

“Charges paid to local TV networks start a long time ahead of the elections at a rate ranging between US$40 and US$180 per second. Competing blocs bought hundreds of advertising hours, worth millions of dollars. You may ask these blocs how they managed to provide sufficient financial resources to meet these expenses.”

“The State of Law Coalition comprises parties and personalities belonging to numerous components and social groups, each taking charge individually of their respective campaigns. The joint campaign of the list, however, did not cost much, as most of the advertising efforts carried out were covered through ordinary media, like posters and flex banners, which are much less expensive, compared to TV advertising.”

Speaking about funding collected by the State of Law coalition from its supporters, Mr. Jabbar said it was ‘mainly moral’ methods they used.

“Collecting contributions in a bank account run by the list is a funding method common in all well-established democracies. The amount collected through these contributions was no more than US$3 million,” he added.

Jabbar denied the State of Law alliance had used state resources and official media body to promote the alliance's list. He said the official TV channel, Afaq, had been equitably used to promote the programs of all candidates, a fact confirmed by elections monitors. He said the alliance deliberately tried to keep the profile of State of Law candidates low to avoid criticism that may be leveled against it in this respect.

“For the personalities on the list, including ministers and other government officials, there was no conspicuous advertising on the streets or on satellite television stations. Iyad Allawi and his bloc and the Ahrar bloc both had many adverts on Arab and Iraqi satellite TV stations.”

Question marks over the legality of campaign funding have been raised, though, and politicians have been forced to defend their expenditure. Some claim to have borrowed from government banks, others say they obtained contributions and funds from unnamed sources. Some even claim to have sold their own houses to fund their campaigns but it is now difficult identify accurately the real sources, even harder to identify the size of the funds.

“Most candidates do not actually know the amount they spent on their campaigns. Some were backed by states in the region outside of Iraq, hoping to promote their own interests,” says Hadi Jalo Mira, a journalist.

“Taking into account the huge prices charged for satellite TV ads, the cost of electoral campaigning will be in the hundreds of millions of [US] Dollars.”

While satellite networks and media bodies are criticised for perceived bias towards particular candidates and lists, it is unsurprising that they do so because they are the media representatives of the respective ideology of the candidates or parties that provide them with much-needed funds.

“The major winners in this election were the Iraqi media institutions, followed by Pan-Arab media, which made huge profits from promotional material, said Ziad Al-Ujaily, manager of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO).

According to al-Ujaily, although it is practically impossible, an assessment of the amounts spent on electoral campaigns is needed.

“There is an unavailability of information on the companies that run campaigns and no consistent method for following candidates’ expenditures of the funds allocated to them,” he said.

Speaking about his opinion regarding the advertising material used in the recent electoral campaign, he feels that locally orchestrated campaigns had the best chances of appealing to voters.

“The candidates who sought the help of foreign experts failed to get their agenda across to the Iraqi voters, simply because such experts were not cognisant of the way those voters think,” he argues.

“Electorates vary from country to country. Advertising campaigns of Europe cannot tally with the one we have at home, given that Iraqi voters focus less on proposed political programs and more on the individuals actually running for office.”