When the coronavirus pandemic hit Iraq in spring 2020, Radio Al Mirbad was forced to scale back its general programmes and divert their attention to the new challenges.
The pandemic has brought several challenges, including significant loss of sources of income. The pandemic has had an impact on international donors, on whom Al Mirbad has also relied for much of its funding. The supplementary income from advertising (never more than 20% of its US$1m annual running costs at the best of times) has also dried up.
“We are on a knife edge now - if we have no funding by next spring, we will have to stop operations,” says Nihad (al JaberiRadio Al Mirbad's editor).
“But I’d rather shut down than accept tainted money from partisan sources.”
“Donors should take note that cutting that lifeline off means cutting down or ending this incredibly positive role that the media can have, especially in a context that is so fragile and transitional as Iraq.”
Iraq’s economy is not sufficiently developed to offer sufficient sources of commercial funding. The tradition of public subsidies without editorial interference from government does not exist.
“Independent funding guarantees Al Mirbad’s ability to operate impartially and serve the public’s right to information,” says Nihad. “Without it there is no independence.”
Now that Zambia is deep in a second wave of COVID-19 infections, our local radio partners face even more complex challenges.
Advertising has dropped even more as small businesses fight to survive and larger ones redirect their spending. And small production teams are trying to continue their programmes while keeping themselves safe, working on rotation and spending more on telephone and Internet when they cannot interview people in person. In one case I know of, a radio station had to pause production when its entire production team tested positive!
But I also know small radio stations are making a difference in their communities. Before joining BBC Media Action, I was one of their mentees, at a radio station in the south of the country. So I understand how critical these voices are in providing important information that people need for their day-to-day lives, as well as platforms for debate and discussion.