UNESCO's "Iraq: Strengthening Good Governance through Support for Independent, Pluralistic, Sustainable and Professional Media"

By Brian Fitzsimmons Post date: Feb 03, 2016


Project Objectives: Reform Iraq's media legislation and bring it up to international standards; increase the media's professionalism and impartiality; and raise public awareness about the benefits of freedom of expression.

Project Partners: UNESCO was the lead donor agency; BBC World Service Trust was the main sub-contractor, partnering with IREX Europe and Albany Associates. Local partners included Iraqi journalists and government officials, the Communications and Media Commission, the Iraqi Media Network, and the Iraqi Media Security Group.

Project Activities and Outputs: The partners held various workshops designed to engage Iraqi journalists, government officials, and media experts in broader discussion on the media environment. One workshop produced a draft law to reform the then-current legislative framework for media regulation; another produced a Code of Ethics and a coalition to lobby for greater access to information; and a final set of workshops produced information campaigns to raise public awareness on the democratic merits of freedom of expression. Additionally, the project produced a Media Sustainability Index score and Training Needs Assessment as benchmarks for future media development.

Project Outcomes: The project was decidedly unsuccessful. It did not reform the legislative framework produced in the post-invasion period; it did not lead to increased media professionalism; and it did not raise public awareness about freedom of expression or access to information. These failures were due to: an inadequate self-evaluation method which tailored its success indicators to the outputs, not the objectives; unsustainable project activities that produced new ideas but did not plan for their actual implementation; and little appreciation for the broader political and economic context, which made the project objectives unrealistic.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Projects must tailor their indicators of success to objectives, not outputs. Otherwise, they will not be able to identify areas for improvement.
  1. Isolated workshops with little follow up are not sustainable.
  1. If conducting benchmark tests, make sure to publish them for other organizations to use.
  1. Consider the overall political and economic context before identifying your objectives.
  1. If offering a cash prize for public awareness campaigns, make sure it is large and regular enough to elicit broad and sustained participation.
  1. Multiple subcontractors can provide specialized skills and allow for an efficient division of labor, as long as they communicate regularly.


For 45 years under the Baath regime, Iraq no independent media.[1] Not until 2004, under the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), did the first independent regulatory body and public broadcaster come into being.[2] Such bodies, it was hoped, would increase the Iraqi government's transparency and accountability, and provide alternative sources of information to voters. Indeed, both of these bodies - the regulatory Communications and Media Commission (CMC) and the public service Iraqi Media Network (IMN) - were instrumental in the subsequent emergence of numerous media outlets. They were created, however, as temporary orders by the CPA, intended to be replaced by Iraqi law quickly.[3]

By the start of the project in October 2007, the CMC and IMN were still relics of the post-invasion period. They had yet to be institutionalized by the Iraqi Parliament, and as such, their independence was threatened. In fact, in 2007, two bills concerning the CMC and IMN  occupied Parliament: one preserved the CMC as an independent regulator and ensured that the IMN remained a public service broadcaster, while the other dismantled both bodies and placed regulatory authority back with the government.[4] At the beginning of the project, neither bill had passed yet.

Moreover, in 2007, Iraq's media environment was hardly free or impartial. With no tradition of independent journalism, the media retained "patterns of co-option," and the main broadcasters followed partisan or ethnic interests.[5] Journalists often ignored or distorted information to serve these interests, and in the process undermined citizens' ability to vote intelligently.[6] Indeed, between 2006 and 2007, Iraq's Media Sustainability Index (an indicator of press freedom, professionalism, and sustainability), decreased considerably. This drop reflected the media's lack of management experience, low professionalism, extreme partisanship and self-censorship, and low security - by 2007, Iraq had been the deadliest country for journalists five years running.[7] Not surprisingly, these factors, along with a general lack of understanding of how media regulation worked, hindered the media's ability to ensure government accountability and voter education.[8]

Such was the environment UNESCO and its partners faced in 2007. As part of the larger effort to democratize Iraq, UNESCO initiated its "Strengthening Good Governance" project to develop Iraq's independent media and respect for freedom of expression. It acted as the lead donor agency, delegating most project activities to three sub-contractors: the BBC World Service Trust (now BBC Media Action), Albany Associates, and IREX Europe. Together, these organizations worked with Iraqi stakeholders, including the CMC, the Iraqi Media Security Group, and various journalists and broadcasters. With a budget of $1,046,039 and a time frame of seven months (October 2007 to April 2008), the partners' overall goal was to "extend and deepen the commitment to freedom of expression in Iraq,…promote and support the media sector, and instill effective, independent regulation."[9]

The following report evaluates this effort. It begins with an overview of the project's objectives, activities, and outputs. It then critiques the project in light of those objectives, putting forth several lessons that future democracy-promoters in Iraq might find useful.

Project Objectives

In line with the broader goal of deepening Iraq's commitment to freedom of expression and supporting independent media regulation, this project had three specific objectives: reform the existing media legislative framework, increase media professionalism, and raise public awareness of the benefits of freedom of expression.

Reform Media Legislative Framework

The project hoped to bring the framework created by the CPA four years beforehand to international standards by keeping the CMC independent and the IMN a public service broadcaster.[10] As such, it favored the first bill in the Iraqi Parliament that would keep media regulation authority with the CMC. Furthermore, it aimed to eliminate draconian sanctions against journalists who violated CMC licensing and reporting laws.[11] In doing so, the project hoped to ensure the media's independence and ability to check government rhetoric.

Increase Media Professionalism

It also endeavored to increase the media's professionalism by instilling a code of ethics and building a journalistic civil society to promote such a code. Doing so, it thought, would develop "more independent, balanced coverage to reduce the impact of the most sectarian  media outlets."[12]

Raise Public Awareness of Freedom of Expression

Finally, the project ventured to raise awareness of the benefits of a free media at the national level. It hoped to instill a sense of respect among journalists and parliamentarians for unfettered access to information, and show why such access was invaluable to institution building and reconciliation processes. Additionally, it aimed teach media bodies what they could expect of an independent regulator such as the CMC.[13]

Project Activities and Outputs

Throughout the seven-month time frame, UNESCO and its subcontractors held various workshops with Iraqi media stakeholders and government officials to achieve these objectives. Each subcontractor officiated workshops tailored to one of the objectives: Albany Associates worked to reform the legal framework; BBC World Service Trust worked to increase media professionalism; and IREX Europe tried to raise public awareness. UNESCO's Iraq office operated in the background for all of these workshops.

Reform the Legal Framework - Activities and Outputs

Albany Associates held several workshops in Amman, from November 4-7, 2007. (Most activities were held in Amman due to the dangerous security environment in Iraq at the time). It worked with the CMC, Iraqi parliamentarians, and media experts to overhaul Iraq's broadcasting codes of practice and laws on freedom of expression, and to scrutinize the CMC's role as an independent regulator.[14] In these workshops, Albany and the participants produced a draft legal framework similar to the first bill already in Parliament. This framework would preserve the CMC's independence and the IMN's role as a public service broadcaster, while eliminating the harsh sanctions currently in place against journalists who violated broadcasting law.[15] Finally, Albany produced Regional Advisory Panels to assist the CMC in its role as a regulator.[16] In essence then, Albany and the workshop participants did not reform Iraq's media laws directly, but instead developed their own reforms and advocated for their adoption in Parliament.[17]

Increase Media Professionalism - Activities and Outputs

The BBC World Service Trust held various activities to achieve this objective. First, it organized a series of workshops from October 21-25, 2007, to develop Codes of Ethics and Safety Awareness. It worked with various Iraqi broadcasters and journalists to discuss these codes and how they could be implemented. It also worked with the Iraqi Media Security Group to see how it could enforce journalistic safety standards to improve the media security environment.[18] At the conclusion of the workshop, Iraqi participants produced a tangible Code of Ethics to regulate media conduct and responsibility, which all agreed to follow.[19] It was hoped that such a code would lead to more impartial and informative reporting.

Second, from February 28-29, 2008, the BBC worked with Iraqi broadcasters to plan and conduct information campaigns on media professionalism and respect for freedom of expression.[20] The BBC offered a cash prize to the best campaign as an incentive for participation, though only six campaigns were produced and eventually disseminated. The BBC hoped these campaigns would raise awareness among journalists about the new Code of Ethics.[21]

Third, in December 2007, the BBC and IREX Europe conducted expert panels to develop a new Media Sustainability Index score.[22] The BBC and its partners intended to use this score (chosen arbitrarily by experienced journalists and academics) as a baseline comparison for future progress in the media environment.[23] Unfortunately, as stated previously, the panel downgraded Iraq's score from the year before.

Finally, throughout the project, the BBC conducted a Training Needs Assessment to see what Iraq journalists thought they needed to improve. Much like the Media Sustainability Index, the BBC and its partners intended to use this assessment to compare against future developments.

Raise Public Awareness - Activities and Outputs

Three workshops in a series titled "Awareness raising with public officials on access to information" were organized by IREX Europe to achieve the project's public awareness objective.[24] The first workshop occurred in December, 2007, and brought a small number of media activists together to debate advocacy initiatives for access to information. The second and third workshops, both held in February, 2008, followed up on these initiatives to try to produce actual campaigns.

The first output of these workshops was a local coalition called the G19 that would lobby Parliament for better access to information. In addition, IREX not only helped the BBC World Service Trust promote its media professionalism campaigns, but it also commissioned three journalists to produce a series of articles and videos linking freedom of expression to democratic and economic development.[25] Through these activities and outputs, IREX hoped to instill a greater respect for access to information among Iraqis and show why it was essential to an informed electorate.

Evaluation and Lessons Learned

From project reports and interviews with officials involved in the project, it is clear that UNESCO's initiative was not successful. Many of the critiques center around the question of sustainability - the workshops succeeded in creating new ideas and raising awareness among journalists, parliamentarians, and other public officials, but they offered little guidance on how to actually implement those ideas and disseminate them to the broader population. This was but one of the many problems plaguing this project, however. This final section evaluates the project's performance for each objective, then highlights the most important deficiencies to uncover lessons for future democratizers in Iraq.

By the actual project objectives, the project was not successful:

  1. Reform Legal Framework: The CMC's existence as an independent regulator is still threatened, and the IMN has yet to be formalized as a public service broadcaster by Iraqi law. Thus, the legal framework created by the CPA in 2004 is still in place.[26]
  1. Increase Professionalism: "Ethno-sectarian empires" still dominate a highly partisan and dangerous media environment. The media "paymasters" still follow business, political, or religious interests, so reporting is highly biased.[27] The Code of Ethics gained widespread approval by workshop participants, but only one journalistic association, the Iraqi Journalist Syndicate, formally adopted it (and many suspect the IJS of corruption).[28] Moreover, only six groups out of dozens actually competed for the BBC's cash prize for the best informational campaign on media professionalism (and one was disqualified). Finally, the Iraqi Media Security Group currently suffers a leadership crisis, so cannot enforce any Safety Awareness Code.[29]
  1. Raise Public Awareness of Freedom of Expression: There is little indication that the three commissioned journalists actually raised public awareness on freedom of expression, since there is no follow up data.[30]

These failures were symptomatic of broader deficiencies within the project.

Inadequate Self-Evaluation and Indicators of Success

Most troublesome, perhaps, was UNESCO's inadequate method of determining success. UNESCO evaluated its activities by "monitoring media and trainer and expert feedback," and by surveying participant satisfaction.[31] Instead of tailoring its indicators of success to its stated objectives, UNESCO tailored them to project outputs and participation rates. Thus, by UNESCO's standards, the project was successful: it included a variety of Iraqi stakeholders; those stakeholders responded positively to the activities and supported the various outputs (such as the Draft Law to preserve the CMC's independence, the Code of Ethics, and the public information campaigns); the project produced benchmarks via the Media Sustainability Index and the Training Needs Assessment; and the various actors worked well together.[32] But by the actual objectives, as we have seen, the outcome is much less positive. Had UNESCO judged itself by its objectives and not its outputs or participant feedback, it might have caught its mistakes early enough to change its methodology.

Little Follow Up after Workshops

Though the workshops produced excellent debate and fomented new ideas among the Iraqi participants, UNESCO and its partners did little to ensure those ideas' implementation. They did not work, for example, with Parliament to actually ensure the draft framework's passage; they did not help build a journalistic civil society to uphold the Code of Ethics;[33] they did not consider the Iraqis' capacity to actually enforce the Code or safety standards; and they never surveyed the population to test whether voter awareness of freedom of expression had increased. Though such follow up would be expensive, relying exclusively on isolated workshops to achieve the project's objectives was quixotic at best.[34] The main issue, as stated, was therefore sustainability. The contractors had no way of ensuring that the workshop outputs went into practice.

Little Appreciation for Broader Political and Economic Context

UNESCO and its partners ignored the fact that Iraq had no experience with impartial and independent media. It was thus unrealistic to hope that a few workshops, a printed Code of Ethics, and verbal commitment to the code would sow the seeds of liberal transformation (let alone actually transform it). With the intense Sunni-Shia divide, a tradition of propaganda-like media outlets, and stark political differences, the chances of increasing media impartiality and professionalism were exceedingly low. It comes as no surprise today then that most of the media still follow partisan lines.[35]

Furthermore, UNESCO ignored the economic realities of Iraq. The government survives partially on oil revenues, so is less accountable to the taxpayer. This puts democratic institutions like an independent media at risk, since the government can turn it into a mouthpiece without as much fear of reprisal. Also, there is little advertising base in Iraq to financially support an independent media. Outlets are thus dependent on media moguls who may have ulterior, partisan motives.[36] By not considering these economic and political factors, UNESCO targeted the wrong actors and started out with unrealistic objectives. 

Lessons Learned

  1. Tailor your indicators of success to objectives, not outcomes. Mid-project, this will give you a more accurate evaluation of your methodology and tell you whether you need to change it.
  1. Workshops with journalists and broadcasters alone are not sustainable. You must also work with members of Parliament to lawfully implement the ideas produced during the workshops, civil society associations and NGOs to socially enforce them, and the elite media "paymasters" (as opposed to regular journalists) to break partisan lines.[37]
  1. If conducting benchmark tests, make sure to publish them. UNESCO and its partners have yet to publish the results of the Training Needs Assessment for other organizations to use.[38] Having this baseline comparison could help future projects.
  1. Consider the overall political and economic context before identifying your objectives. If the security situation is less than ideal, this may lower participation rates by local actors. It can also lead to logistical nightmares (like shipping participants out of state, as UNESCO had to do). Also, consider the feasibility of your objectives given the current economic and political environment.
  1. If offering a cash prize for public information campaigns, make sure it is large enough and regular. The BBC's prize was fairly small and a single event - offering a larger prize yearly might make the contest more prestigious and effective.[39]
  1. On a final and more positive note, having a team of subcontractors instead of a single, unified subcontractor can actually be beneficial: it allows for a division of labor and a broader set of technical expertise.[40] Just make sure the team communicates regularly (which this team did).

Future projects in Iraq intending to liberalize the media environment would do well to heed these lessons.



Al-Rikabi, Kadhim, Mike de Villiers, Drusilla Menaker, and Dalen Todd. "Media Sustainability Index Iraq." IREX Europe. IREX Europe, 2008. Web. 24 Mar. 2015. <http://www.irex-europe.fr/IMG/pdf/MSI07_IREU_Iraq_eng.pdf>.

Awad, Abir. Country Director, Iraq, BBC Media Action. Headed BBC's project activities. Email Correspondence. 6 Mar. 2015.

Awad, Abir, and Tim Eaton. "The Media of Iraq Ten Years On." BBC.co.uk. BBC Media Action, Mar. 2013. Web. 24 Mar. 2015. <http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/mediaaction/policybriefing/bbc_media_action_m....

Griffin, Doug. Director, Albany Associates. Head of Albany Associate's project activities. Personal interview. 3 Mar. 2015.

"Iraq: Good Governance through Support for Independent, Pluralistic, Professional, and Sustainable Media." IREX Europe. IREX, n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2015. <http://www.irex-europe.fr/Iraq-Good-Governance-through.html>.

"Iraqi stakeholders meet to discuss draft law on media and telecommunications." UNESCO.com. UNESCO, 13 Nov. 2007. Web. 24 Mar. 2015. <http://portal.unesco.org/ci/en/ev.php-URL_ID=25629&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_S....

"Lessons Learnt working with Media in Iraq." AmplifyMedia.com. Albany Associates, 1 Aug. 2007. Web. 24 Mar. 2015. <http://ns2.amplifymedia.com/attachments/article/523/albanylessonslearntw....

Puddephatt, Andrew. "External evaluation of the UNESCO project C9-21 "Strengthening Good Governance Through Support for Independent, Pluralistic, Sustainable an d Professional Media” ." UNESCO. Global Partners and Associates, Dec. 2008. Web. 24 Mar. 2015. <http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0022/002265/226511e.pdf>.

"Quarterly/Semi-Annual Report: UNESCO C9-21 Seventh 6-month Progress Report for Project." UNDP.org. UNDG, 31 Dec. 2007. Web. 24 Mar. 2015. <http://mptf.undp.org/factsheet/project/00066951>.

"Towards Democracy in Iraq: Calendar of Events." UNESCO. UNESCO, 12 Feb. 2008. Web. 24 Mar. 2015. <http://portal.unesco.org/ci/en/ev.php-URL_ID=25477&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_S....

"TOWARD FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS: CONFIRMING INDEPENDENT INSTITUTIONS AND GOOD GOVERNANCE FOR MEDIA & COMMUNICATIONS IN IRAQ." SmartComms.org. UNESCO, Albany Associates, Aug. 2012. Web. 24 Mar. 2015. <http://www.smartcomms.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Legal-Review-Web3.pdf>.

"UNESCO supports free and independent media in Iraq." UNESCO. UNESCO, 21 Nov. 2007. Web. 24 Mar. 2015. <http://portal.unesco.org/ci/en/ev.php-URL_ID=25650&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_S....

[1] UNDG Quarterly/Semi-Annual Report, 4

[2] Doug Griffin, Personal Interview


[4] Ibid, 4

[5] UNDG Quarterly/Semi-Annual Report, 4

[6] Al-Rikabi et al, 4

[7] Ibid, 4

[8] Albany, "Lessons Learnt Working with Media in Iraq," 6

[9] IREX Europe, "Iraq: Good Governance;" UNDG Report, 1

[10] Puddephatt, 5

[11] Doug Griffin, Personal Interview

[12] Puddephatt, 5, 11

[13] Puddephatt, 5

[14] UNESCO, "Towards Democracy in Iraq: Calendar of Events"

[15] UNESCO, "Iraqi stakeholders meet to discuss draft law on media and telecommunications"

[16] UNDG Report, 3

[17] Doug Griffin, Personal Interview

[18] UNESCO, "Towards Democracy in Iraq: Calendar of Events"

[19] Abir Awad, Personal Interview

[20] UNESCO, "Towards Democracy in Iraq: Calendar of Events"

[21] Puddephatt, 18

[22] UNDG Report, 15

[23] UNESCO, "Towards Democracy in Iraq: Calendar of Events"

[24] UNESCO "Towards Democracy in Iraq: Calendar of Events"

[25] Puddephatt, 17-18

[26] Doug Griffin, Personal Interview

[27] Abir Awad, Tim Eaton. BBC Media Action Report, 5

[28] UNDG Report, 10

[29] Puddephatt, 16

[30] Puddephatt, 18

[31] UNDG Report, 6

[32] Puddephatt, 9-18

[33] UNDG Report, 10

[34] Abir Awad, Personal Interview

[35] Ibid

[36] Abir Awad, Tim Eaton. BBC Media Action Report, 5

[37] Abir Awad, Personal Interview

[38] Puddephatt, 12

[39] Puddephatt, 23-24

[40] Doug Griffin, Personal Interview