Iraqi newspapers hit by huge drop in government advertising

BAGHDAD, July 4, 2008 (MENASSAT) – Last month, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced a change in the legal obligation for government agencies to publish their bid requests in at least three national newspapers.

The decision was a huge blow to independent Arabic-language newspapers, who depend for 40 to 70 percent of their income on government advertising. Even some party newspapers need this advertising, as their wealthy owners or their parties are not ready to provide full financing.

The rest of Iraqi newspapers' income is provided by sales, by private advertising mainly from mobile phone companies, and from agencies distributing American political advertising, such as election ads and ads about terrorism.

Individuals in Iraqi ministries and in other government agencies, who bring the advertisements to the newspapers, usually take a commission  of 35-40 percent, reducing every newspaper's income by a sum that is often as high as monthly salary payments to their employees.

A similar measure was taken after the Iraqi parliamentary elections of December 2005, when Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaffari ordered ministries not to buy advertisements from independent newspapers. This order however was withdrawn later.

For the moment, there is no sign that Al-Maliki will review his decision. The main independent and semi-independent (i.e. self-financed) newspapers haven't responded to the decision yet.

The new measure by al-Maliki was announced at the same time as the establishment of a new newspaper linked to his Al-Dawa party, Al-Bayan.
Iraqi newspapers face other challenges too. Many newspaper copies are never delivered as a result of curfews and vehicle bans, government parties' militias controlling access to cities and prohibiting newspapers to enter, the collapse of the distribution network as a result of the violence on the highways and the forced closure of printing houses and headquarters because of employee kidnappings.

Very few independent newspapers receive foreign funding or other forms of foreign support. UNDP supports the independent news agency Aswat al-Iraq while American aid is mainly given to Iraqi television and radio stations.

(Anna Zayer)