Any casual observer of international affairs in the late 1990s knew Iraq’s 'Oil-for-Food' program was plagued by corruption. Yet, in Baathist Iraq such information was tightly controlled. These were the conditions facing Nabil Z. Ahmed when he launched Radio Free Iraq’s Economic Report
“The Economic Report
looked closely at the corruption in the 'Oil-for-Food' program," Ahmed explains. "Iraq was under sanctions at this time and the amount of corruption was immense and included the highest levels of the Russian and French government.”
After its initial launch, Economic Report
rapidly became popular with listeners across Iraq who had little access to economic news about their country. The weekly broadcast dealt with Iraq’s domestic and international economy, focusing heavily on capital markets, entrepreneurship, finance, agricultural development, and trade. In all, 455 episodes of the Economic Report were broadcast between April 1999 and June 2009 before Ahmed moved on to focus on other projects with Radio Free Iraq, including local and world news bulletins, international and regional reports, as well as translations from western press.
Broadcasting in Iraq has never been without its challenges. Saddam’s regime took a hostile view toward Radio Free Iraq
and many of the early interviews were conducted anonymously. Today, however, Radio Free Iraq has an entirely different brand image in the region. “Now when we speak with individuals from Jordan or Saudi Arabia and say we are with Radio Free Iraq," says Ahmed, "they often know who we are and what we do."
In Iraq we have elections, but democracy is not just voting. You must build a civil society and ensure free speech.
Ahmed, who had the distinct honor of reading the very first news bulletin for Radio Free Iraq in 1998, recalls when he began broadcasting there were numerous opposition radios aimed at the Saddam regime. After the fall of Saddam, many of these halted broadcasts. Nevertheless, Radio Free Iraq's role today remains as important as ever. Ahmed explains, "While the media environment is more free in today’s Iraq - there are in fact hundreds of publications – the various media outlets are very biased towards one group or individual. Overall professionalism is lacking.”
Before joining Radio Free Europe in 1998, Ahmed worked as a newspaper editor, an academic, an Information Director of Iraq’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and as an Information Consultant at UNICEF Baghdad. Perhaps most important to his future in economics reporting was his position with the National Bank of Abu Dhabi.
The veteran journalist, who is known to his listeners by his on-air name "Nadhum Yassin," has high hopes about the economic potential of his native Iraq. “I’m optimistic. Oil production is back up and for the first time last year major international companies returned to Iraq. Still, Iraq needs to continue to improve its infrastructure to allow it to integrate more closely with the international system. There are also promising signs in the banking sector and even tourism.”
Recently Nabil has been reporting extensively on the fate of Iraqi antiquities, vital to international tourism.
Ahmed also stressed the role that societal reforms must play in a new Iraq. “In Iraq we have elections but democracy is not just voting. You must build a civil society and ensure free speech. You must also have a degree of transparency both in politics and business. That’s what we do with Radio Free Iraq.”
Episode recordings and full text of all episodes since October 2001 can be found here
- Joseph Hammond