The U.S. government's Broadcasting Board of Governors plans to set up a Baghdad TV channel this week and air Arabic-captioned broadcasts of U.S. news programs. These include "NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw," "ABC Evening News With Peter Jennings," "CBS Evening News With Dan Rather," PBS's "News Hour" and "Fox News Special Report with Brit Hume."
The Broadcasting Board of Governors is a communications program funded by the State Department but it operates autonomously. Aside from overseeing operations of the Voice of America, it also runs Radio Sawa, which beams music and information aimed at youth in Arab countries.
Along with American TV newscasts, the new Iraqi channel, which is expected to air five or six hours of nightly programming, will also carry two hours of news from Radio Sawa. The channel won't contain advertising.
"Our job is simply to provide fair, balanced and credible news," Norman J. Pattiz, chairman of radio company Westwood One and chairman of the broadcasting board's Middle East committee, said. "We are going to be broadcasting complete unedited shows, showing how the U.S. media talks to the U.S."
The American networks are providing the nightly programming without charge. The Baghdad programming, which will come from Washington, D.C., is a prelude to a move to let Iraqis create their own media and also to the Mideast Television Network, the Arabic language satellite TV network the U.S. is slated to launch in December.
Mr. Pattiz said some of the staff working on a new satellite network, among them former CNN Washington Bureau Chief Bill Headline, were pulled to work on the project. Mr. Pattiz said it's not yet certain whether the Iraqi station will be continued when the Mideast Television Network starts airing, aimed at a pan Asian audience.
The new U.S. broadcast station in Baghdad will actually be the second American channel on the air in Iraq.
`iraq and the world'
The U.S. military has been broadcasting TV and radio into Iraq from a C-130 plane dubbed Commando Solo. The Broadcasting Board of Governors programming, slated to air from a Baghdad transmitter, will start airing next week initially using the Commando Solo transmitter. It will switch to a land-based transmitter as soon as feasible. The programming service will be called "Iraq and the World."
The military started broadcasting its own channel called Nahoo al-Hurriya ("toward freedom") with a one-hour news program and messages from President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair on April 17 and will expand the broadcast to five to six hours a night, combining some news and some entertainment programming, said U.S. Central Command spokesman First Lt. Josh Rushing.
While TV is a focus of the U.S. effort, Lt. Rushing said only 3% of Iraqis own a TV and only 10% have access to TV at other locations in their communities. For this reason, radio remains a major focus of the military's efforts.
There were suggestions last week that other Iraqi media, including a newspaper, wouldn't be long in coming. "We're working very aggressively to find the contacts within the city and in the country who would like to begin an Iraqi broadcast network," Major Gen. Victor Renuart said last week at a briefing in Qatar. "Over the coming days and weeks we hope to allow the free Iraqis to begin their own TV [and] radio throughout the country."