Between Books and Street-Smarts: Ethics of Journalism in Iraq and Kurdistan

The media — including newspapers, television, radio, websites, and social media, through which we are exposed to or consume information from — represents a critical and powerful sphere of influence that underpins the norms, ideas, and behaviors within society.

Media practitioners therefore have an obligation to their audience to present fair and unbiased information, situated and contextualized for ease of reference, and ethically – doing no harm to those featured.

The way the media portrays key issues, influences how we may determine what is right and what is wrong, who’s at fault, or what caused a situation to unfold. We need representative voices – women and men of different religious, ethnic, and language backgrounds, to speak on the most pressing issues of the day, raise awareness, prevent information monopoly, and encourage diversity. In Iraq and Kurdistan, endemic levels of violence against women and girls is among the highest in the world; but it remains largely unreported…or misreported.

SEED Foundation is supporting UNFPA and Rudaw Media to train 300 young women journalists – over a period of 12 months – to ensure diverse representation and tackle the lack of women working in media, and specifically, for SEED to support and strengthen reporting on violence against women and girls.

These passionate young women, hailing from cities and towns across Iraq and Kurdistan, represent the next generation of voices in the media, and will set the tone and agenda for the future. This week-long training aims to equip all graduates with professional journalistic skills, while enhancing their knowledge on the critical issue of violence against women and girls (VAWG). This is important because what matters is not only if violence is reported, but how it is reported.

During one of SEED’s recent sessions on VAWG and ethical journalism, we had the opportunity to meet two young journalists, Aya* and Nadine* from Baghdad; and despite their different approaches to journalism, they found an unexpected connection amidst the intensity of the workshop sessions.

“It was around my teenage years when I started picking up a passion and a responsibility to tell the stories of people,” shared Aya, 22, her voice tinged with determination. “Little by little, this became my purpose in life. That was when I paused my academic journey and committed myself to amplifying the voices of those who are often unheard.”

When reflecting on the impact of SEED’s training session, Aya’s excitement was palpable, “I did several training sessions on media practices in Kuwait and Jordan, but [SEED’s] session was transformative for me,” she said. “Especially when talking about conflict-related violence, it was a topic that I had never fully understood the extent of, and it made me realize just how pervasive and damaging it is in our society.”

SEED’s half-day session provides an overview of the different types of violence, their impact, how individuals can identify them, and where to report them to. SEED also trains on the ethics of journalism on VAWG to help journalists report on these issues responsibly, in a survivor-centered, trauma-informed manner, and with the aim to raise awareness, which in turn will help reduce stigma and combat violence; rather than perpetuate negative stereotypes and pose risks to survivors and those at-risk.

Linking her own journey with the workshop, Aya pondered, “When I finished middle school and went on to pursue journalism, I always had one community issue on my mind: the oppression women face in my country.” She paused, “A woman here cannot have her full rights; she is stripped of the right to education, the right to lead, to be a decision-maker, and the list goes on.”

With renewed enthusiasm, and inspired by SEED’s session, Aya explained that “Now, following the workshop, my eyes are even more opened to the issue. I understand the struggle and the violence women are facing here. And how to communicate these issues was something I couldn’t have explored alone before the discussions we carried at the workshop.”

Reflecting on the issue of violence against women, how journalists report on it, and her own education, Nadine, a Media and Journalism senior in University, shared that “Following four years of an academic journey, there have been countless topics we studied, but how to communicate the issue of violence, especially about women, is definitely something new for me. The media is in complete neglect of this topic.”

“As the trainer delved into the ethics of communicating on these sensitive topics, I was saddened to realize how far reality has strayed from these practices,” Aya sighed. “Journalists simply take the news and publish it without questioning its veracity or feeling accountable for their actions. During the workshop, we learned about different aspects of not only community violence but also how to approach these stories ethically. How to interview, how to get photos, and most importantly, how to prioritize consent forms and the comfort and safety of the interviewees.”

Workshop after workshop, participants have shared their disdain at how neglectful today’s media has become when reporting the on-going issue of violence. “As a journalist, you should listen to all sides and be fair,” concluded Aya, feeling convinced that these ethical considerations are a moral responsibility, and not an added burden upon journalists like herself and her peers.

Since the program began in January of 2024, there has been increased interest from participants and partners, who believe in building the capacity of the next generation of journalists. Whilst SEED Foundation was among the first to collaborate and partner on this project, both Internews and Google News Initiative (GNI), are now also offering sessions to participants on key topics – recognising the importance of the initiative to help create a more diverse, ethical, and professional media presence in Iraq and Kurdistan.

*Names and minor details have been adjusted for confidentiality

As of May 2024, six cohorts of young women journalists have completed the week-long training with UNFPA, Rudaw, and SEED; and another six are scheduled to take place before the end of the year. If you would like more information, please contact:

SEED Foundation,