In a previous article (see “Winning
the Battle”) we discussed the obstacles
facing Middle East public perception of U.S. policy.
From recent reports, it appears the war for public
opinion is not making sufficient progress, largely
caused by a surprising inability to provide fundamental
press services and freedom of expression.
Until recently, a U.S.
defense contractor, Science Applications International
Corporation, ran the Iraqi Media Network (IMN). Despite
being paid a reported $100 million for its services, the
network failed to attract significant viewership.
Apparently, many Iraqis preferred to get their news from
al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya – neither of which has been
sympathetic to U.S. diplomacy.
Iraqis suffered censorship
and propaganda for decades under Sadaam Hussein. Rather
than now offering freedom and first amendment rights to
media, both the Coalition Provisional Authority and the
Governing Council seem to be thwarting the effort. For
example, the Governing Council recently closed down the
Baghdad office of al-Arabiya.
The Iraqi Media Network’s
Web site contains
nothing but a statement that “There is no information
available at this time. Please check back.” This message
has reportedly been unchanged for many months - not a
big credibility builder. While Iraqis thirst for
credible information, the ball has been dropped and
Iraqi popular opinion is being molded by antagonistic
Could better tidings be in
store? A new $96 million contract has just been awarded
to Harris Corp., an international communications
equipment company focused on providing product, system,
and service solutions for government and commercial
content for the media network - consisting of two radio
stations, two television stations and a newspaper - will
be provided by outside parties. Lebanese Broadcasting
Corp. will deliver the radio and TV content, with
newspaper content supervised by Al Fawares, a Kuwaiti
corporation with Iraqi ownership.
Al Hurra, a U.S.-based media
service for the Middle East. is also on the planning
board. It is intended to be a fair and balanced
Arab-language news and entertainment network. However,
considering that studios will be in Virginia, some are
skeptical that this will be perceived as anything more
than a propaganda outlet.
The key to gaining
credibility and acceptance for the new Iraqi
broadcasting networks should be to embrace the ideals
cherished in the U.S. – the ability of the media to
report news and events as they see it, without
censorship. Until that happens, the war for public
opinion remains in the balance.