Bashar Abdullah (right) is the editor-in-chief of Naynawa al-Ghad TV.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The cell phones never stop buzzing at Naynawa al-Ghad TV.
“One time we had 1,700 texts in an hour from people who wanted to join in the programme,” says Bashar Abdullah, the editor-in-chief of the station – the name means Nineveh of Tomorrow – which decamped from Mosul to Erbil after the ISIS takeover of Iraq’s second city in June.
The live phone-in the station airs three times a week is very popular, he says. That is because it provides a vital information exchange between those in the occupied city and the outside world.
The station is owned by Atheel Nujaifi, the governor-in-exile of Mosul, and run by his son Abdullah. The aim of setting up in Erbil is to give people in Mosul information, and hope, about plans to end the occupation by ISIS, or Daash as it is called locally by its Arabic acronym.
The makers left Mosul hours before ISIS the city on June 10. Islamic Sharya law was imposed soon after, and an Islamic State declared by the end of the month.
“We could not work under Daash,” Abdullah Nujaifi states. “Within a week after we left we started broadcasting from Erbil.”
Only the car with the satellite dish on the roof in the driveway bears witness to the fact that a TV station is based here, in one of Erbil’s compounds. Inside, the team is having lunch, and a white cat is begging for its share. The newsroom is in the sitting room, the studio in an upstairs bedroom. There are two studio sets: one a newsdesk and the other an interview slot, complete with two easy chairs.
The program offers mainly news, the phone-in and movies, repeated through a 24-hour cycle. “Look, this is what Daash doesn’t like,” the editor-in-chief says, pointing to the TV where a woman in a bikini is lounging at the side of a swimming pool. “That’s why we broadcast it, to make sure people keep in touch with the real world.”
The station wants to exchange information with civilians in Mosul, as the governor needs to know what is going on and he wants people to know about his plans. The phone-in is an important tool.
Although people avoid using their real names, they are surprisingly outspoken: criticising the lack of electricity, the rising price of petrol and the fact that women have to cover their faces.
At the same time, they come up with news, as in the case of the changes ISIS made in education, which now centres on the Quran and its version of Islam.
“Many people left the city to take their exams elsewhere,” Nujaifi says, “in Kirkuk, or the Kurdistan Region. But recently they have no longer been allowed to leave the city.” He thinks this is part of an ISIS policy to use civilians as human shields against air strikes by the Americans and the Iraqis.
“Life hardly is liveable out there anymore”, adds Bashar Abdullah. “It has become a prison.”
The station reports on the situation in Mosul, but also about other places under ISIS control in Iraq - Tikrit, Fallujah and much of Anbar. It has reported on preparations to form a police force of 4,000 of Atheel Nujaifi’s men to help liberate Mosul. “These policemen are now being trained to take on Daash,” declares the governor’s son.
Abdullah Nujaifi says the resistance in Mosul, the Mosul Brigades, are becoming more active, with their snipers and bombers daily taking on members of ISIS, he says.
“We are in close contact with the brigades and report on everything they do,” adds Bashar Abdullah. “This way we give people hope they will be liberated soon.”
According to Najaifi and his editor- in-chief, people in Mosul are so fed up with the bad situation, they even get into arguments with members of ISIS. Apparently the militants hardly show themselves on the streets anymore. While before they would walk around trying to control people, now they are said to mainly keep to the houses and other buildings they confiscated.
The high number of arrests and executions by ISIS has angered the people of Mosul, Abdullah Nujaifi says. Last week it became known that two female human rights activists were executed That followed the execution of policemen, lawyers, politicians, medical doctors and journalists.
“We often discuss how many people have died in the hands of Daash. We do not know. But it must be thousands.”