- Iraq’s media is promoting the voices of militia leaders who have led LGBT+ killing campaigns.
Iraq’s media is ‘systematically promoting hate speech and violence against’ LGBT+ people and even supporting militias mounting ‘killing campaigns targeting LGBT+ people’.
Those are among the major findings of a new report by LGBT+ organization IraQueer.
It highlights how Iraqi reports use offensive words, give platform to people spreading hate and even tell outright lies.
For example, TV reports called LGBT+ people ‘faggots’, ‘sinners’, ‘abnormal’, ‘mentally ill’, ‘outcasts’, ‘lustful’ and ‘prostitutes’.
Researchers found the shows they tracked used these 1,574 times. By comparison they only used neutral terms like ‘the LGBT+ community’ and ‘gay’ 98 times. Even then, they mostly used phrases such as ‘gays, or sexually abnormal individuals’.
The report says the coverage is inciting hate and making it harder for allies to support the LGBT+ community. Murders of LGBT+ people are common in Iraq.
Meanwhile the media are also damaging LGBT+ people’s own sense of themselves. A 2018 survey by IraQueer found 89% of LGBT+ people feel the media coverage has made them see queer identities more negatively.
From the emo killings to coronavirus
The report says that Iraqi media rarely mentioned LGBT+ people until a decade ago.
Early coverage highlighted the massacre of LGBT+ Iraqis during the ‘emo killing campaigns’. GSN was the first international outlet to break the story in 2012. And Iraqi media tended to take their information from international reports.
Iraq’s government was likely complicit in the campaign which saw up to 100 murders.
However, IraQueer says media coverage started to increase in 2013 as LGBT+ campaigners became more organized.
This year coverage has risen even more sharply. Many Iraqi sources have covered the decision by foreign embassies to raise LGBT+ Pride Flags in the capital, Baghdad. Moreover, they also blamed LGBT+ people for the spread of coronavirus.
Dramatic music and dark alleys
The researchers analyzed 60 media outlets and 22 TV programs.
They found TV shows deliberately manipulated their reports to make viewers suspicious of LGBT+ people.
The report says:
‘Almost all the programs and news segments had a haunted house-like music playing while talking about LGBT+ identities.
‘Some of them even added extra dangerous sounding music, like the sound of a bomb after any statement they deemed to be “controversial” and was made by an LGBT+-identifying person.
‘Such music played after statements like, “I am gay,” “I want to kiss another boy,” and “Humans become aware of their sexuality when they are younger.”
‘Similarly, some of the programs even filmed their episodes and interviewed LGBT+ people in abandoned warehouses, dark alleys, and other suspicious looking environments.’
Moreover, TV stations prioritized giving air-time to homophobes and transphobes rather than LGBT+ commentators or our allies. The report says:
‘On average, LGBT+ speakers got less than five minutes of speaking time. [This compares] to nearly 31 minutes to speakers who [are] anti-LGBT+ people.’
Sensational claims about ‘sexual deviants’
Similarly, printed media also use words like ‘abnormal’, ‘shemale’ and ‘prostitution’ when discussing LGBT+ issues.
Moreover, they stir up hate with sensationalized reports.
For example, in 2016 the writer Insam Al-Shalji described dating sites like this:
‘Daring online pages for homosexuals and sexual deviants exist where they post their photos and phone numbers.’
Likewise, the Iraq Newspaper attacked IraQueer and the acceptance of the country’s LGBT+ population with a report titled:
‘An important statement by the Iraqi Council of Ministers regarding the sexually deviant’s organization in Iraq.’
The media has also attacked LGBT+ people as ‘more dangerous than terrorists’. Reports have suggested the community endangers young Iraqis.
Lies and misinformation
Meanwhile the report demonstrates how the media spreads false information.
TV hosts and ‘expert’ guests claim people become LGBT+ for a range of reasons, none of them true. These include ‘hormonal abnormality, birth defects, mental illness, families and lack of parental guidance, rape and sexual abuse, and disconnection from religion’.
The researchers found:
‘The words “treatment” and “preventions” were used a total of 188 times, while words like criminals and punishment were used 134 times. 100% of their solutions were anti-LGBT+ people, as none of them considered the possibility that being LGBT+ is not a problem.’
This is based on the false idea that LGBT+ people can be ‘cured’ through ‘conversion therapy’. In fact, all leading health, psychological and psychiatric bodies disagree with this. Instead they say ‘reparative therapies’ are dangerous.
However, Iraqi media is still peddling lies about this. The report says:
‘The nationally respected therapist Saeed Al Aathami told Dijla TV in 2018 that the World Health Organization categorizes homosexuality as a mental disorder.
‘That is inaccurate information. The WHO removed homosexuality from its International Classification of Diseases in 1992, 26 years prior to Al Aathami’s statement.’
Similarly the host of another show falsely claimed a study had found ‘that LGBT+ marriage is temporary while heterosexual marriages last for a lifetime’.
Other media claims include the idea that foreign influence is spreading homosexuality. The report says:
‘Many of them even claimed that the number of homosexuals has increased since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, casting them as victims of foreign campaigns to promote homosexuality and destroy Iraqi society’s moral foundation.’
‘A few positive signs’
Despite this, the reports’ authors are seeing a few glimmers of hope.
They say: ‘There are still a few positive signs that could be the beginning of better media practices and coverage of LGBT+ topics.
‘Despite the security risks, one can argue that the increased level of coverage is a positive sign that LGBT+ people are being slowly recognized.
‘The use of the Arabic word “Mujtamaa Al-Meem”, which translates to the LGBT+ community, has been notably higher. In fact, even more conservative channels have used the term. They often used it in a negative context, but it is used nonetheless.’
In conclusion, they call on Iraq’s media to raise their standards, use fair terminology, bring in true LGBT+ experts and give time to LGBT+ voices.
Another Iraqi organization also supported the report but chose to stay anonymous for security reasons.