Migrants, Multiculture, Our People

A messenger bringing Iraq to Western audiences

Yaser Al-Sayegh began his career as a reporter focused on bringing Western news to Middle Eastern audiences. He now does the opposite through his Iraq International News Agency, which offers original multimedia coverage of Iraq for syndication around the world. The Prisma series “Journalists and immigrants in the UK”.


Robert Desborough


Bahrain-born Yaser Al-Sayegh first arrived in the UK on a student visa back in 1982.

He studied media communications at university but found it near-impossible to access the industry as an immigrant, which forced him to dive in and out of various other jobs – from working in a restaurant to working as a taxi driver – just to make ends meet.

Ironically given the barriers he personally faced due to his accent and language skills, Yaser saw journalism as a means of furthering cultural exchange. “[British] people weren’t aware of the Middle East and Middle Eastern people knew nothing about the British. There was no trust between cultures, just violence and conflict. I understood myself as a messenger who could bring British culture to the Middle East and say: “Look, British people are good people, they have respect, they’re friendly, they smile,” he explains.

Yaser Al-Sayegh.

Conversely, Yaser believes Western audiences also fail to understand Middle Eastern cultures.

“A lot of blood, I call it:  blood spilled, I say, a lot of tragedies in the region,” Yaser offers by way of description. But he seems equally opposed to the flattening out of Middle Eastern cultures into single-issue stories of devastation, when in reality each has their own rich histories, nuances, and types of falafel.

“Everyone [in the UK] knows about falafel. But is Syrian falafel better, or Iraqi or Egyptian or Lebanese or Palestinian? No one knows,” he laughs. His official entry point into journalism after finishing university was as a reporter covering the various Western anti-war protests of the nineties and early noughties for Middle Eastern audiences. Some of this evolved into more activist-style journalism, with Yaser writing countless letters and emails to various seats of power in the UK and beyond – from the House of Lords and Ministry of Defence to the European Parliament – imploring them to cease targeting Iraqi civilians through air attacks.

Over time, Yaser’s career pivoted to instead bringing Iraqi news to Western audiences. He is now the director of Iraq International News Agency (IINA), an Impress-regulated press agency with an on-the-ground news gathering team in Iraq and an attached London bureau.

Founded just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020, IINA lacked any financial support in its early days and relied on advertisements and UN-sponsored content to get itself off the ground. Part of the challenge was that reporters need and deserve proper compensation for their work, which remains a particular challenge in independent media contexts. “At the end of the day, journalists who work with us need to survive. They need to live, eat, go out, relax – if you don’t have money, your mind will be preoccupied with living, but you need a relaxed mind to do your job,” Yaser explains.

Despite these challenges, Yaser describes independent journalism as “healthier” than mainstream alternatives.

There’s no obligation for journalists to follow a particular editorial line or heed businessmen’s wishes; those doing the actual reporting are the ones in control.

Yet Yaser remains clear-eyed about the challenges of covering Iraqi news, where mis- and disinformation run rampant to the extent it is often difficult for trained journalists themselves to find out what is actually happening. The difficulty of verification took on a particular urgency during the Iraq War of 2003, which saw the then-U.S. President George W. Bush and then-UK Prime Minister Tony Blair use allegations that Saddam Hussein still possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) stockpiles as a pretext for waging war. “God knows how many people in Iraq and Syria have died because of this misinformation,” Yaser says.

And when it comes to holding the Iraqi government to account, such as by investigating alleged corruption or abuses, journalists can easily run into serious trouble. For all the UK media industry’s unfreedom, it is more professionalised, access to information is more transparent, and there are few concrete repercussions from falling foul of the government.

That’s why although IINA remains dedicated to basic news-gathering principles, the outlet mostly focuses on sourcing the “good” news about Iraq – in part also as an antidote to how much Western-produced Middle Eastern coverage focuses solely on the negatives. IINA’s editorial guidelines, Yaser explains, ultimately centre on prioritising the interests of Iraqi people, as well as the nation’s security, economic development, and heritage.

(Photos provided by the interviewee)


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