The Pentagon has awarded a $96 million contract to a U.S. communications equipment company to develop Iraq's existing but antiquated media network for the next 12 months.
The Florida-based Harris Corp. will upgrade and operate Saddam Hussein's old radio and TV networks, now called al-Iraqiya, and the national newspaper, previously headed by Saddam Hussein's son, Uday, the firm announced Friday.
The contract includes the provision of equipment, operation, training and content for two radio channels, two TV channels and the national newspaper, collectively called the Iraqi Media Network.
"We are extremely pleased to be selected to play this role in the rebuilding of Iraq's critical broadcast and media infrastructure," Harris Corp. Chairman Howard Lance said in a statement posted on the company's Web site.
"The free flow of information is crucial to any modern society, and we are committed to making this ambitious goal a reality," Lance said.
To assist with the project, Harris Corp. will partner with the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. International (LBC), a Middle Eastern media network, and Al Fawares, a Kuwaiti company with Iraqi ownership which publishes a newspaper in Kuwait and Newsweek in Arabic.
LBC is responsible for training and content programming for the two radio and two television channels (one of news and one for entertainment). Al Fawares will manage the newspaper and train its journalists, and will help expand the newspaper's reach.
Harris will lead the project and provide all the necessary transmitters, integration and automation broadcast equipment.
Lance said he and the two partners hope "soon to have up and running a high-quality news and entertainment network."
After the collapse of Hussein's government, coalition forces seized control of Iraq's state-run media network. Since then, Iraq's broadcast stations and newspaper have been run by a U.S. defense contractor, Science Applications International Corp. However, under SAIC's direction, the network failed to attract viewers and listeners because the content was considered too pro-American and the coverage of breaking news was criticized as too slow, The Washington Post reported Monday.
This is the second contract Harris has won in Iraq; the first was awarded in September to start an Iraqi radio station. Harris in July 2003 created an Iraq Initiatives Office to pursue possible business opportunities in the rebuilding of Iraq.
The IMN contract can be extended for two additional six-month periods for a total potential value of $165 million, the company press release stated.
But, Haider Abadi, the Iraqi communications minister, said he was not consulted about the contract and threatened to overturn it when the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority turns over power to a sovereign Iraqi government in July.
"We very much welcome the help of others to reshape our media, but to relinquish our responsibilities and to give control to foreign media is politically and socially wrong," Abadi said, as quoted by the Financial Times. Abadi said the contract was only "temporary."