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U.S.-Funded Iraqiya TV Defects To The Other Side

by Jalal Ghazi

The Campaign To Monopolize Iraq's Media

(PNS) -- In May 2003, a U.S.-sponsored, nationwide Iraqi TV network began broadcasting to counter Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, media outlets Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld branded at the time as "violently anti-Coalition Forces." The new station was first called Iraqi Media Network Television, but in November 2003 was renamed Al-Iraqiya, or "the Iraqi One."

The station, which reaches 70 to 80 percent of Iraq, used to broadcast rosy reports about liberated life in Iraq after the ouster of tyrant Saddam Hussein. Images of mass graves of people killed by the Hussein regime were frequently shown. Suspected armed fighters were exhibited on television and told to tell about their "terrorist operations" in extended detail. The station also used to get exclusive interviews with top U.S. officials.

Recently, however, the Al Iraqiya coverage has changed 180 degrees.

On Mar. 27, Al Iraqiya reporter Mohammad Al Khafaji accused U.S. forces of deliberately killing and injuring a number of civilians as Iraqi worshippers gathered at Al Husaini mosque in the area of Ower to perform sundown prayers. One eyewitness told Al Iraqiya, "the American forces stormed the Al Husaini mosque and attacked worshippers one hour before sundown prayers. A group of soldiers surrounded the compound and opened fire on worshippers. They killed nearly 20 martyrs." Another eyewitness said, "The American forces rounded up the worshippers and executed a number of them in separate rooms."

Al Iraqiya has also been providing a platform for two Shiite leaders that the United States opposes. On March 21, Al Iraqiya aired a speech by the Secretary General for Lebanese Hezbollah, Hasan Nasrallah, in which he cautioned Iraqis not to drift toward sectarian strife and stressed that enemies of Muslims are fueling sectarian strife. Hezbollah is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations.

On March 10, Al Iraqiya also aired a one-hour interview with Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of the Mahdi Army. During the interview al-Sadr said, "We must set a timetable agenda for the occupation forces to withdraw from Iraq. This will serve the interests of the Iraqi people, and it will mark a victory for Iraqis and Muslims all over the world. It is not a victory to terrorists. The Iraqi people will be united and be able to combat the occupier and counter their attacks."

Scott Carpenter, a representative with the U.S. State Department's Democracy, Human Rights and Labor division explained to Arab journalists last month that the door is open for independent Arab newspapers, radios stations, television stations and Web sites to apply for financial support.

Carpenter told the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the American Middle East Partnership Initiative Office will give out $5 million to independent media in countries including Algeria, Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza.

Jaclyn Johnson, who is in charge of receiving the applications, said that the applicants must produce public programs about local issues in an objective way.

The initiative was established to "promote a positive change in the Middle East and northern Africa." According to Saudi Arabia-based Asharq Al-Awsat, the United States seeks to promote reform in Arab countries through educating people on the benefits of a free-market economy, or through promoting political reforms that serve its national interests. Another key objectives of the initiative is to build bridges between American and Arab civil society.

The American Middle East partnership initiative will give seven two-years grants ranging in value from $100,000 to $1 million.

According to Al Arabiya Television, American employees in embassies throughout the Middle East are monitoring everything broadcast or written about U.S. policies. Daily reports are then sent to an office called "the rapid-response office" on the second floor of the State Department building. The office summarizes the information in a one-page report and submits it to American policymakers.

State Department spokesman Adam Early told Al Arabiya, "The idea is that if we know how the world sees us, then we can respond."

Dr. Mustaf Ala'ni of the Gulf Research Center disagrees. "The American administration has established this office because it believes that Arab media cover U.S. policies in a negative way." The State department, Ala'ni says, wants to learn the positions of these media, and "will then reword or punish Arab media accordingly."

John Smith, a State Department employee who monitors Arab media for the "Rapid-Response Office," told Al Arabiya, "What I do first in the morning is to monitor Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, Abu Dhabi and sometimes LBC (Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation), Al Manar, (the official television of Hezbollah) and sometimes Al Alam (a 24-hour Arabic news channel from Tehran)."

Ala'ni said that despite $100 million spent on U.S.-financed media Al Hurra and Radio Sawa, both still have very little influence on Arab viewers and listeners. So now, Ala'ni says, "the State Department is using the carrot-and-stick policy, letting Arab media know whether their coverage is acceptable or not."

In trying to improve the U.S. image among Arabs, U.S. Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes has launched a campaign to recruit Arabic speakers to defend U.S. interests on Arab television.

This is evident in the greater number of Americans appearing on Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya television, a reversal of the U.S. policy of shunning "unfriendly" Arab television. However, many speakers have thick accents and poor command of Arabic. Some make the same semantic errors that Hebrew speakers tend to make when speaking Arabic, giving the impression that they learned the language in Israel rather than Egypt, Morroco, Jordan or Lebanon.

The State Department does use some Arab Americans to defend U.S. policies, but due to the current political environment, many Arab viewers discredit such broadcasts as propaganda.

The failings of American Arabic speakers are compared to the fluency of Russian speakers of Arabic, who regularly appear on Arab television. Many of these Russians learned to speak Arabic during the Cold War, and have now become assets to Russia.

On April 3, Russian analyst Leond Sikoneim defended Russia against American accusations that his country provided Saddam Hussein with intelligence about American forces during the war. His strong command of Arabic helped his argument.

Chinese officials have also shown strong command over Arabic. This was evident when Yang Wo Gong, China's envoy to the Palestinian authority, in perfect Chinese confirmed that his country respects democracy and the choice of the Palestinian people on Abu Dhabi television after the Hamas-led government won a vote of confidence.

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Albion Monitor   April 5, 2006   (

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