Before launching Awene (The Mirror) newspaper, Hardi founded Hawlati (The Citizen) in November 2000, and worked as its editor-in-chief until November 2005.
At the launch of Awene, Hardi said: "We would like to be an independent newspaper that is a source of neutral news and exchange of different opinions. Awene shall mirrors facts. /.../ The team has several valuable years of experience in Hawlati. We can use this in a number of ways starting form marketing and distribution to shaping and production of our paper. We would be transparent to ourselves and to our readers, and we work as a strong team. The paper shall be financed as a share-holding company. So that one person - the owner of the paper - cannot have full control for simply financing the paper."
The authorities have tried to sue Hawlati several times and in 2005 they managed to take the paper to court in accusing them of publishing a false story. The former editor - Hardi - and the current one were both sentenced to six months imprisonment and fined 50 US$ each. The prison sentences were later commuted with the stipulation that the editors would not publish any errors for the next three years. This has not stopped Hardi from continuing to expose corruption and other forms of mismanagement.
In an interview at the Frontline Club in London in 2005, when asked whether there were any red lines limiting the work of his newspaper, Hardi replied: "Red lines are everywhere, even in this country (U.K.). However, a good journalist can cross all the red lines. There is always a way of crossing."
Awene reports a circulation of 17,000 copies, divided between Awene Political and Social and Awene Sport. The paper employs 40 people and currently has one sub-office. The newspaper has a diverse board of directors, including lawyers, doctors and intellectuals, who are also shareholders in the paper.
The newspaper also plays an important role for the Kurdish Diaspora, providing Kurds abroad with the latest news from their home country. The media in Iraqi Kurdistan have several advantages compared to media in the rest of Iraq. Kurdish media benefit from a longer tradition of democracy and civil society. They also have more contacts with Western communities, which has allowed for a greater awareness of basic press freedom values. Iraqi Kurdistan also is much safer than the rest of Iraq, which obviously creates better working conditions for journalists.
Iraqi Kurdistan has a small independent press unafraid to regularly challenge the country's main political parties by publishing stories on a wide-range of issues, including government corruption and human rights abuses. However, accessing information continues to be one of the greatest obstacles facing journalists in Kurdistan, as information normally lies with the authorities, which tend to monopolize and prevent the publication of what they deem harmful to their interests.
Moreover, newspapers in Iraqi Kurdistan face the same obstacles as most media in developing countries: limited advertising markets, poor distribution networks and a general lack of infrastructure.
Although Iraqi Kurdistan is seen as a more democratic and open society when compared to rest of the region, it currently has several press laws that criminalize defamation, insult, slander, and the publication of "false" information, and in 2008, the parliament pushed for harsh new legislation setting heavy fines and allowing the government to close newspapers. As a result, the region has seen an increase in the number of journalists detained or jailed on court orders issued in connection with criminal defamation complaints.
According to a 2009 investigation by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the increased assertiveness of Kurdistan's independent media has not gone unnoticed by the authorities, which have responded with increased acts of repression, targeting especially those who have reported critically on high-level officials.
To read 2009 Gebran Tueni Award acceptance speech by Asos Hardi, editor-in-chief of Awene, please follow the link.
To read 2009 Gebran Tueni Award remarks by Timothy Balding, Joint CEO of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, please follow the link.