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[infowar.de] WPO 12.01.04 U.S. Firm To Run Iraqi TV
January 12, 2004
U.S. Firm To Run Iraqi TV
Harris Corp. Also to Operate National Newspaper
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post Staff Writer
The Pentagon has awarded a $96 million contract to a U.S. communications
equipment maker to run Saddam Hussein's old television and radio
network, now called al-Iraqiya, for the next 12 months, the chairman of
the company said last week.
Harris Corp., based in Melbourne, Fla., will operate the national
newspaper formerly run by Hussein's son Uday, in addition to running the
broadcast network, said Howard L. Lance, chairman of the company.
When Hussein's government fell in April, the state-run broadcast
stations and newspaper were seized. In the months since, they have been
run by a U.S. defense contractor, Science Applications International
Under SAIC direction, the stations have not drawn viewers and listeners
because their content was considered too pro-United States. In addition,
there has been turnover in the non-Iraqi management and turmoil within
the Iraqi staff, many of whom were holdovers from the previous
dispensation. The day before Hussein was captured last month, 30 Iraqi
reporters and producers were fired, and al-Iraqiya did not get the news
of his arrest on the air for almost 24 hours.
Lance said last week he and two partners hope soon "to have up and
running a high-quality news and entertainment network."
The partners are the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. (LBC) and a Kuwaiti
publishing and telecommunications company, Al-Fawares. Harris will
manage the project and supply the equipment. LBC will be the source of
the electronic programming and will conduct training.
Running the newspaper and training its journalists will be handled by
Al-Fawares, which publishes a newspaper in Kuwait and prints Newsweek in
Although the Pentagon contract runs for a year, there is some question
about what will happen to the newspaper and stations -- collectively
known as the Iraq Media Network (IMN) -- when the Coalition Provisional
Authority turns over sovereignty to a new Iraq government, scheduled for
July 1. Lance said last week he did not know what was going to happen,
but he pledged to make the network a "high-quality" organization,
whether it becomes state-run or remains under Pentagon control after
Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Foreign Relations
Committee, recently voiced concern about the U.S. media program in Iraq
and specifically about the IMN. He has told the White House he expects
the State Department to take responsibility for supervising the IMN
after July 1.
"We don't want U.S. taxpayers paying $100 million for some new Iraqi
government over there to take over," Mark Helmke, a senior aide to Lugar
on the committee, said last week. "The chairman wants to make sure that
the new contract leads to an independent, free press."
Dorrance Smith, a former ABC News producer and an adviser to President
Bush and President George H.W. Bush, works in Baghdad as a senior media
adviser to the coalition authority. He recently added the IMN to his
responsibilities, according to Washington and Baghdad government
Smith's first job in Iraq was to create a 24-hour television feed for
local U.S. television stations, bypassing the networks, which U.S.
officials complained were emphasizing negative news from Iraq.
The former Hussein network is not the only Iraq media project being run
by the U.S. government. The authorities, using money generated by Iraqi
oil sales, are working to set up an FM radio station south of Baghdad
within 30 days to compete with local religious broadcasters. It is the
latest move in the broader, sometimes faltering, effort to present the
viewpoints of the United States and the provisional authority.
The U.S. regional coordinator for south-central Iraq is looking for a
contractor to build the station, to be housed in a religious university
at Al Hillah. The FM outlet will provide "a means of promoting CPA aims
and coalition information," along with "democratic education, vocational
education . . . [and] public service broadcasting services," according
to a request for proposals published recently. The CPA would "identify
Iraqi personnel for training" at the station, the request said.
The proposed Al Hillah university station has drawn bids from companies
in Cyprus, Sweden, Germany and the United States. It is not the only one
planned in the region, which one official described as "a hotbed of Shia
religious activity." There has been talk of possibly placing another one
in the local women's center to give women a voice, a CPA official said
Meanwhile, the U.S. board that runs the Voice of America and Radio Sawa,
an Arabic-language entertainment and news channel, is moving to set up
land-based television broadcast stations in Baghdad and Basra. They will
carry the programming of its new Middle East satellite channel, which is
set to begin operating next month.
In its recent contract proposal, the Broadcasting Board of Governors
said it is "particularly noteworthy that the urgent establishment of BBG
TV broadcasting systems in Iraq is a top U.S. government priority." The
board said it wants the Baghdad station running by the end of next month
and the Basra station operating by March 22.
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