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[infowar.de] Irak: Speeches Called Propaganda
Speeches Called Propaganda
U.S. Team in Iraq Cites Western Journalism as Model
By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Washington Post Wednesday, October 29, 2003; Page A16
For the past few weeks, Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer has appeared
every Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m. on IMN, the Pentagon-run television
network, with a taped message to the Iraqi people about what is going on
in their country.
The speeches, dubbed in Arabic, are much like President Bush's weekly
Saturday radio address, according to Gary Thatcher, the former CBS
producer who is head of strategic communications for the Coalition
Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq. "We are here to set an example of
journalism in the Western tradition," he said.
To many Iraqis, though, Bremer's prime-time addresses are more
reminiscent of the regular television appearances of former president
Saddam Hussein, according to both American and Iraqi media specialists
who have studied IMN, the Iraqi Media Network. Iraqis see the station
not as a vehicle for free speech but "as the mouthpiece of the CPA," the
BBC World Service Trust reported after studying the stations this
In last week's address just before the holy month of Ramadan, Bremer
repeatedly referred to Hussein as "the evil one." "You must not lose
hope, because you have seen the evil one go," Bremer said at one point.
"You, the Iraqi people, whom the evil one was bound to protect, he
instead tortured, he instead murdered. You, the Iraqi people, whom the
evil one was bound to feed, he instead starved."
Flynt L. Leverett, a former CIA Middle East counterterrorism analyst who
served on the Bush National Security Council and is now at the Brookings
Institution, said: "He is using religious and cultural symbolism, but it
is an obvious resort to propaganda. It is not inappropriate, there is a
war going on, but he is doing it in so obvious a way."
That view -- that IMN is a vehicle for propaganda -- is one of many
ironies in the U.S.-led coalition's attempt to create a free, Iraqi
media operation out of the rubble of Hussein's defunct Ministry of
The fledgling IMN has taken over Hussein's 18 television stations, his
government radio stations and al-Sabah, the 60,000-circulation national
newspaper now published on what was the same site of the newspaper
founded by Hussein's son Uday. Since this spring, management has been
contracted out to Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), a San
Diego-based defense contractor with a $40 million-plus budget and no
experience in media development. SAIC, in turn, has been overseen in
Washington by the Defense Department's office that specializes in
psychological warfare operations, or psyops.
Lately, IMN is known as "psyops on steroids" in parts of the Pentagon,
because there is an additional $100 million in the Iraq supplemental
appropriation bill before Congress to pay the winner of a new contract,
beginning in January, to create a "world-class" media operation.
Twenty-three bidders, including SAIC, and some U.S. and foreign
journalistic organizations are to meet in Baghdad next month to discuss
plans for turning the enterprise around.
At the heart of its difficulties is that IMN is supposed to promote U.S.
goals and provide an alternative to often critical Arab-world media
while evolving into Iraq's version of a free press.
"They need psyops to get their message across and at the same time
allegedly want to create an indigenous, independent media . . . goals
that are counterintuitive," said a senior congressional aide familiar
with the program.
The tools used to accomplish these goals reflect the paradox: The New
York advertising agency J. Walter Thompson is designing a new logo,
graphics and programming schedule for a network whose staff and even
broadcast frequencies are much the same as they were under Hussein.
"IMN is a big source of announcements of services and curfews by CPA,"
said one Iraqi working with a British team training journalists outside
Baghdad. "But it is manned by many of the old Iraqi Information Ministry
who have the mentality . . . of the past."
Charles Heatly, a British citizen who is the CPA spokesman for IMN, said
in a telephone interview from Baghdad: "There has always been a debate
because our two aims are conflicting. But we are very slowly going to
develop into an independent voice to be seen and liked."
IMN needs to move quickly if it wants to counter critical coverage of
U.S. and coalition efforts by the Arabic-language satellite channels of
al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya. About 35 percent of Iraqi homes have
satellite receivers, which were banned during Hussein's rule, but that
number is growing rapidly. A recent poll showed that Iraqis who can get
satellite television choose the Arab stations over IMN by more than 2 to
1. Meanwhile, Iran has built a powerful television transmitter on the
Iran-Iraq border, and its al-Alam channel can now be received in
In a telephone interview from Iraq's capital, Thatcher said IMN's news
operation is being directed by a former CNN International executive
editor, and pointed to U.S.-style practices: "We give [IMN crews]
special access" to CPA news conferences, he said, "but don't tell them
how to cover it." And he said members of the U.S.-appointed Iraq
Governing Council -- all of whom are potential candidates whenever
elections may be held -- have been warned "that it is not appropriate
for them to control" political coverage.
He also said, "The Pentagon as an institution has never attempted to
influence content since I have been here."
Others who have studied the situation say Thatcher's operation has begun
to exercise more control over what IMN's 18 local stations can
broadcast. The central network broadcasts 18 hours of feed a day,
including a two-hour news block. Only 30 minutes is cut out for local
news coverage, and all programming has to be approved in Baghdad.
Even in Mosul, where the local station has been operated under the
watchful eye of Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the 101st
Airborne Division, the Baghdad office has sent IMN technicians to
improve the signal between Baghdad and Mosul and kept two on the scene
to make certain that more network material is carried over the station.
In Afghanistan, in contrast, money both from the U.S. Agency for
International Development and from nonprofit organizations has been used
to develop local stations outside the central government's control,
according to David Hoffman, president of Internews Network, an
international nonprofit organization that has helped develop open media
in 45 countries since 1992. The IMN situation is "the worst mess I have
ever seen in my life," Hoffman said.
Thatcher agreed that the local stations had to take the network feed
from Baghdad but that he was encouraging local stations to develop
programming and preempt when reasonable.
But, he added, "there ought to be one channel where Iraqis can find out
what is going on with national reach, and that's IMN."
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