Iraqis fill the Mosul airwaves after IS radio silence

Mohammed Salim

During the Islamic State group's rule in Mosul, radio stations were banned and replaced with broadcasts of jihadist propaganda. Today, young Iraqis are filling the city's airwaves. One budding presenter is Nour Tai, who at 16 years old faces the microphone with a confident tone and a professional style. She hosts a weekly programme on One FM, a Mosul station launched in February that broadcasts a mix of music, entertainment and current affairs debates. Her career began a year ago thanks to a talent show organised by Al-Ghad, a station in the Kurdish city of Arbil which hosted many of those displaced from Iraq's second city. She told AFP at the time that she was passionate about radio because "it touches everyone". "I want to be part of it," she said. She now sits in the One FM studio, accompanied by her father, as a degenerative illness left her blind three years ago. She says her aim is to "give people hope, especially those who suffer from a handicap." "I want to tell everyone that we can all contribute something and that we can realise our dreams," she says from the cramped studio. - Erasing 'terrorist ideology' - The launch of One FM came six months after Iraqi forces declared victory over IS following three years of brutal jihadist rule in Iraq's second city. IS had shut down independent radio stations and anyone caught tuning in could expect severe physical punishment. The emergence of stations such as One FM is a step in the city's transformation since IS was ousted following a vast, months-long operation. Young presenters are busy 24 hours a day, producing and broadcasting shows which are also filmed for broadcast on the radio's website and social media accounts. The channel is run by volunteers who bought the necessary equipment by pooling their savings, some selling their own belongings to fund the station. Yassir al-Qaissi, One FM's head of communications, says their aim is to "denounce violence and extremism, and broaden people's minds." There is a need to "erase the terrorist ideology and end the sickness of our society, such as sectarianism and racism," the 28-year-old says. Ahmad al-Jaffal, 30, says the jihadist occupation "created a vacuum of thought". "With my programme, I try to promote ideas of coexistence, of mutual understanding, and of acceptance of the other," says Jaffal, who worked as a journalist prior to the IS takeover in 2014. - Volume up - One FM is not the only ambitious new station on the local airwaves. Mosul residents who took refuge in Arbil after the IS takeover of their city launched two stations: al-Ghad and Start FM. After Iraqi forces drove the jihadists from Mosul, One FM was launched and Mosul FM started broadcasting from the nearby region of Dohuk. That means it has more radio stations than the two state-run channels it had under former dictator Saddam Hussein. All currently broadcast analogue signals and can only reach Mosul and its surroundings. The US invasion in 2003 brought a multitude of new options for listeners, although these were co-opted by American occupying forces or political parties. The period before the IS offensive was risky for journalists and presenters in Mosul, who were regularly targeted by Al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups. Mohammad Salem, a sociologist, says the new stations will need government supervision to ensure that this time they are not misused for political or religious purposes -- "especially as some of their funding sources are unknown". On the streets of Mosul, the radio shows bring a distraction from the struggles of life in the war-scarred city. Taxi driver Mohammad Qassem, 27, says the music and entertainment shows are a welcome addition to his long days. "We can finally listen to all the songs that IS deprived us of for three years," he says happily, before pushing the volume up to maximum on his car radio.