Violence Ravaged Iraqis Seek Solace From TV Shows

by VR Sreeraman on  January 7, 2008 at 5:33 PM Lifestyle News   - G J E 4
Violence Ravaged Iraqis Seek Solace From TV Shows
Outside is a dangerous and derelict city brought to its knees by war, but inside the Baghdad studios of Al-Sumaria the gentle world of daytime TV provides an oasis of calm for viewers across Iraq.

Three chatty female presenters guide their popular daily show through another morning of relationship advice, audience phone-ins, celebrity interviews and fashion tips.

Their light-hearted banter is matched by the softly lit studio set with its large yellow sofas, stylish decor and floral paintings.

The star interviewee, actor and comedian Hafidh al-Aibi, is asked for his thoughts about the show's theme of the day -- whether relationships are different in modern life from what they were in the past.

"My parents couldn't read or write," he confides. "But that's nothing to be ashamed of. The important thing is that their relationship was strong whatever circumstances they faced.

"Today people are on their computers and using the Internet, and I think that there might be less mutual respect now."

Such universal concerns about love, families and marriage are a favourite topic for satellite channel Al-Sumaria's morning show "Naharkum Succar" -- Your Day is Sweet.

The programme opens with a quick review of the newspapers, focusing on the good news -- reopened roads or new buildings erected -- rather than the endless pages detailing the violence that continues to plague the country.

Then the presenters take calls from viewers, who this day include a woman from the southern city of Basra.

"Marriage used to be better but it is weaker now than it was in the past," she says. "Things have changed."

The presenters listen with a sympathetic ear and ask for further opinions from viewers. Next the show has a pre-recorded music item, during which the presenters sing along off-camera, and gossip with the fashionably dressed cameramen.

Later there will be make-up advice tailored to the limited finances of most Iraqi women, plus the lowdown on new diets, interior design and entertainment news.

One of the show's most popular segments is the horoscopes, which mix upbeat predictions with subtle hints about future love life.

Similar such programmes fill countless hours of daytime TV around the world, but in Iraq "Naharkum Succar" and its friendly, all-inclusive spirit is quietly taking a stand against the brutality that dominates many lives in the country.

"We talk about social topics that are close to people's lives," says beautifully manicured presenter Shaima Jaffar, 25, relaxing backstage after the show.

"It is an independent programme directed at all members of the family, and we have an optimistic nature. Of course we avoid politics and religion. We make life in the middle of death. It is natural to us."

The three presenters arrive at 7:00 am for make-up, hair and run-throughs before going on air from 10:00 am to noon.

"Broadcasting five days a week is exhausting, but we are like sisters and we share the burden between us," says Marwa Muzafa, 23. "If we are tired, talking live to our viewers soon helps. Men and women of all ages and from all regions of Iraq watch the show.

"When we started eight months ago only people in Baghdad phoned in. Now we get calls from all over the country -- and even from Oman and Jordan."

The presenters, who are becoming increasingly famous in Iraq, have major personal ambitions for the future.

"I would like to interview Celine Dion and to star in the movies," says Muzafa, who is also an actress on television and radio.

"The film industry in Baghdad is ruined," says Jaffar. "But, of course, we hope it comes back. I want to be successful and secure my home for my family.

"I would like to interview Michael Jordan and Jean-Claude Van Damme," she adds with a smile.

"I want to visit TV stations abroad and learn to work with the high-tech equipment that the most modern studios have," says Sameera Ibrahim, the oldest of the trio at 41.

Among the issues that "Naharkum Succar" tackled recently was attitudes to divorce, but the presenters say they have faced no criticism from conservative elements in Iraqi society.

"We are close to the feelings of ordinary citizens," says Muzafa. "Over Eid (the Muslim holiday in late December) we made a special effort to repair broken relationships among our viewers and help get people back together."

In a plush office above the studio, channel head Jasim al-Lami looks every inch the Hollywood movie mogul with a mane of grey hair flowing down his shoulders.

"Since we started Al-Sumaria in 2004, the only important thing has been our neutrality. We are not with any political party or religion or region of Iraq," he says, adding that the channel is funded by Lebanese investors.

"We always have the logo 'For One Iraq' in the corner of the screen. We strive to be the voice and the guardian of the Iraqi citizen."

As the show closes, the winner of the daily quiz question is announced as Noor from Najaf, who collects 100,000 Iraqi dinar -- about 80 dollars.

Then the presenters sum up the phone-in, saying viewers believe that relationships have changed but that the central importance of friends and family remains the same.

"Always visit your loved ones even if the realities of life make it difficult," Sameera Ibrahim urges viewers before traditional music marks the end of the show.

Source: AFP

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