Iraq: "Free Media" Run by Pentagon Contractor

Publisher Name: 
Washington Post

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday that new media
freedoms in Iraq are making the occupation harder for the U.S.-led
authority, "but in the last analysis, I think the benefits vastly
outweigh the burdens of it."

Speaking before a Pentagon town meeting yesterday, Rumsfeld said,
"We've seen the free press abused in this country and other
countries, and it's not a surprise that it can be abused there." He
noted that the two most popular television satellite stations in
Iraq, Dubai-based al-Arabiya and Qatar-based al-Jazeera, are
"violently anti-coalition" and that "it will take some time to
persuade people to watch different programming."

Rumsfeld's remarks came at a time when the Coalition Provisional
Authority is seeking bids for a $100 million contract to run Iraq's
former government-controlled television and radio networks and
national newspaper, which used to be edited by Saddam Hussein's late
son, Uday.

Now called the Iraq Media Network, the operation has come under
criticism for carrying television and radio programming that features
primarily occupation authority officials and announcements along with
a weekly broadcast by L. Paul Bremer, head of the occupation
authority.

"Many Iraqis and outside Arabs feel the coalition is an occupying
force that does not serve Iraq's needs effectively, distrusts what
the coalition says and relies on other media," said Anthony H.
Cordesman, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies in Washington, who has just returned from a
two-week visit to Iraq. In a report on his trip, Cordesman said it
was not clear that the media network was being fixed, but he noted,
"Information operations are absolutely critical to U.S. success."

Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, told the Pentagon meeting that Bremer's media team had begun
offering new programming "that we hope will attract the average Iraqi
citizen's attention."

One communications expert familiar with the Iraq situation said
yesterday that the occupation authority's television channel, run by
Pentagon contractor Science International Applications Corp., will
have changed its format three times by the end of the month. "Each
time you change, you have trouble getting audiences back to sample it
again," he said.

The U.S. Broadcast Board of Governors, which runs Voice of America
and created Radio Sawa, a relatively new broadcasting effort in the
Middle East, is also planning to establish a television presence in
Iraq. It will air 12 hours of television programming out of Baghdad
beginning early next year.

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