According to the CIA’s World Factbook in 2002, Iraq has 24 million citizens, but only 1.75 million of them have televisions. It has 13 broadcast stations. California, which is about the same size, has 34 million residents and no less than 74 television stations. Of course nearly every house in the United States has at least one television.
Saddam Hussein’s regime knew the power of TV. The largest broadcaster, Iraqi TV, continued to broadcast for the first two weeks of war, with some periodic blackouts caused by U.S. air strikes. Only after repeated bombings of multiple transmitter sites did it finally go off the air. The former Iraqi government prepared for war with TV broadcast redundancy, building dozens of transmitters and deploying them in different locations, even in mobile homes and trucks. Television was obviously important in influencing the beliefs of the people. A democratic government may be in Iraq’s immediate future, but television will still be an important part of that democracy.
You can be sure that very few Iraqi citizens are video producers and they were no doubt required to support Saddam Hussein in the past. Iraqi citizens never saw opposing views on television. A healthy democracy requires a free press, which includes all media. While less than 8% of Iraqi citizens own TVs, most people have access to television in one way or another. It is most important that the TV programs broadcast in Iraq be made by Iraqis about regional and local issues.
The issues that need video coverage within a democracy are obvious to our readers. Iraqi citizens can witness the formation and operation of their new government through televised meetings. It will be important to watch the debates among candidates, the various parties that emerge and the varied ethnic/religious groups represented. While here in the USA, we are pondering digital TV standards, in Iraq, VHS quality images are perfectly satisfactory. Mini DV camcorders and personal computers are an excellent, accessible and economical choice. It may also be important to establish several new TV stations to foster competition for emerging TV advertising business (if a capitalist economy emerges). Perhaps the most important videos will be those of independent videographers that will send their messages out of Iraq, letting the rest of the world know of the hardships going on there during the rebuilding process.
In my opinion, each of Iraq’s ethnic subgroups should use video to express their concerns, views and opinions. For democracy to succeed, the smallest voices, those articulating creative ideas and those with information to communicate, must have access to the telecommunications network. After years of media repression, there can finally be free, strong and independent voices in Iraq. The power of television and video is to help people learn more about their world and to bridge the gaps that divide them.