Friday, October 24, 2003

Most Iraqis don’t read a newspaper, and an even higher percentage don’t trust the dozens of local newspapers that have sprung up here, according to new poll by the independent Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies.

Of the 39% who do read a newspaper, they seem to prefer Azzaman, an Arabic daily published in Iraq, Bahrain and the UK, even as they claim they do not trust it.

More people listen to the radio – primarily Arabic BBC – and watch television.

Interestingly, most Iraqis watch the coalition-funded Iraqi Media Network (IMN), a TV network described by Governing Council member Samir Shakir Mahmood Sumaidy as “a disaster, a complete catastrophe.” IMN has come under fire for being expensive and full of propaganda, but it has recently added an entertainment channel which is popular.

But it would be wrong to assume that most Iraqis prefer the Iraqi Media Network to al-Arabia, Qatar-based al-Jazeera, Abu Dhabi TV or al-Alam, an Iranian channel, all of which scored below IMN.

This is because while 93% of Iraqis have a TV, only 43% have a satellite dish, which would allow them to watch these Arabic news channels.

The same poll said 5.4% of Iraqis use cell phones but since cellular networks are not yet up (for people other than coalition workers), that’s actually a reference to the cordless phones that many Iraqis carry. When their home phone rings and they are not more than a couple of miles away, they can answer the cordless set hanging from their hip. This number is of course expected to shoot up when cell phone service starts up soon.

The percentage of Iraqis with Internet access was described as 3% which seems to include both people with dial-up access at home (from the former state company for Internet access) and those who frequent the Internet cafes springing up all over town.

The poll also asked people to prioritize several statements about what they wanted out of a new Iraq. I thought this was one of the most hopeful things about the survey. After 30 years of Saddam, and in a country where you often hear Iraqis say that other Iraqis need to be ruled with an iron fist, this is a positive sign.

95.5% said the top priority was for people to choose their political leaders through fair and regular elections.

89.5% said the most important thing was for all nationalities of Iraq to share power in the government.

87.9% said the top priority was for Sunni and Shia to share power in government.

83.4% said abiding by the law and punishing criminals was the most important priority.

78.1% said people should be able to openly criticize the government.

69.7% said the media should be able to report without censorship.

70.9% said women should have the same rights as men

56.4% said religious leaders should play a large role in politics