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Iraqi chat show an ‘oasis of calm’

Universal topics discussed on call-in program

BAGHDAD — Despite Iraqis’ understandable preoccupation with war and politics, they apparently also like to talk about issues that affect women and men around the world — relationships, love, marriage, children, fashion and celebrities.

Tapping into universal themes, Baghdad-based satcaster Al-Sumaria’s daily phone-in chat show has become an oasis of calm in an otherwise turbulent and often cruel and brutal reality for Iraqis.

Entitled “Naharkum succar” (Sweeten Your Day), show features three chatty hostesses who field calls from viewers, offer fashion tips, dish out relationship advice and interview celebrities.

In what was a typical show last week, the guest star, actor and comedian Hafidh al-Aibi, was asked to comment on how relationships today differ from those in the past.

“My parents couldn’t read or write,” he said. “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.”

The 10 a.m. to noon, five-days-a-week show opens with a snappy review of the newspapers before the hostesses take calls from viewers.

This time, a woman from southern Basra city phoned in. “Marriage used to be better, but it is weaker now than it was in the past,” she said. “Things have changed.”

Other viewers called in to offer their comments on the day’s theme — modern-day relationships.

The phone-in segment gave way to make-up advice for women on a limited budget, as well as the latest diets, interior decoration and entertainment news.

One of the most popular segments features horoscopes — bright predictions subtly mixed with hints about future love life.

The immaculately made-up presenters, Shaima Jaffar, 25; Marwa Muzafa, 23; and Sameera Ibrahim, 41; refuse to discuss politics or religion, preferring to stick to what they say are “social topics close to people’s lives.”

But they also don’t shy away from tougher subjects, having recently devoted several shows to divorce and broken relationships.

So far they have been spared criticism from conservative elements in Iraqi society.

Channel head Jasim al-Lami stressed that Al-Sumaria, established with the backing of Lebanese investors in 2004, has tried its best to remain neutral — not easy in a media landscape dominated by political and religious interests.

“The only important thing has been our neutrality,” he said in a recent interview. “We are not with any political party or religion or region of Iraq.”