Trylon Communications  - January 2004
       

Weapons of Mass Persuasion

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 forces.

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 customers.

Significantly, actual 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.