Qassim Khidhir: "Journalists in Iraq are passionate and highly resilient"
Qassim Khidhir, a journalist for the Kurdistan Chronicle, has been passionate about journalism for almost 20 years, despite it being an incredibly difficult profession to have in Iraq. Qassim, who admits to having fallen into journalism "by chance", reflects on his career and on the challenges that reporters face in his country. Interview by Emmanuel de Solère Stintzy
Why did you choose to specialise in media development?
To be honest, I didn't really plan to specialise in media development. When I was at university, lots of foreign journalists came in to interview us Iraqi students on the possibility of the USA invading Iraq. I worked with some of them as a fixer and became close to several media development stakeholders.
We must bring our social, political and economic issues to the forefront.
Under Saddam (Editor's note: Saddam Hussein, president of Iraq from 1979 to 2003, who went into hiding during the 2003 invasion of Iraq), we didn’t have a choice. I hated Iraqi TV because it was all about him! After his downfall, journalists could write about anything. It is so important to have a choice. Contrary to a relatively widespread idea in Iraq, we can't just say: "Insha'Allah, let's see what the future holds." We must bring our social, political and economic issues to the forefront.
How do you think the Qarib project benefits Iraqi media outlets?
Other media projects I've worked on previously had everything mapped out in advance; only a small number of Iraqi media outlets, always the same ones, were included and they simply had to do as they were told. Qarib is different. We have visited lots of media outlets throughout the country with CFI. These media outlets haven't received any money yet, but they make a big impact in their local areas. We held joint discussions on the topics that the media outlets wanted to cover, their problems and their needs Qarib is breathing new life into the 18 independent media outlets selected. These media outlets are suffocating as, broadly speaking, they lack the information, financial resources and safe working conditions necessary to carry out their work.
I will be encouraging the media outlets to enter the content they produce into a competition we are soon to launch.
As Coordinator for Iraq, I will be organising future initiatives and encouraging the media outlets to enter the content they produce into a competition we are soon to launch. I will also check that the editorial content produced by the media outlets selected remains professional, balanced, respectful of minorities and compliant with the commitments they have made.
In your opinion, what challenges do journalists in Iraq face today?
Journalists are often threatened and some have even been murdered. Journalists in Iraq face many difficulties, but they are passionate, they have journalism in their blood, and they are highly resilient. The biggest challenge is knowing how to apply the Constitution and the laws which are good on paper and can protect them. However, there are also numerous forces and militia that become like "states", with their own laws, their own flags, etc. It's very difficult for journalists to work with these groups.
If you decide to become a journalist, work hard and stay passionate
If I had to give one piece of advice to my colleagues, I would tell them: "If you decide to become a journalist, work hard and stay passionate, that's how you can access everything you want! However, your role is to be a professional journalist, not an activist! In Iraq, when you mix the two, you lose sight of who you are."
Qassim Khidhir during his trip to Paris for the CFI Media and Development Forum in July 2023.