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RFE/RL Media Matters Vol. 4, No. 6, 29 March 2004

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    RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC ________________________________________________________ RFE/RL MEDIA MATTERS Vol. 4, No. 6, 29 March
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 3, 2004
      Vol. 4, No. 6, 29 March 2004

      "Freedom of information is...the touchstone of all the freedoms."
      (UN Freedom of Information Conference, 1948)




      By Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

      Media critic Marshall McLuhan once described television as a
      "cool" medium that reduces people, passions, and places to the
      dimensions of a small blue screen. Yet in ways McLuhan likely never
      imagined when he first conceived of the "global village" that the
      passions and prejudices incited by biased media coverage can be fiery
      indeed, as the recent bloodshed in Kosova illustrates.
      Control of the media is hotly contested, especially in
      conflict zones, where -- as was once said by journalists covering the
      Balkans wars -- "television is the continuation of war by other
      In Iraq, the stakes are high as various large media projects
      that have faltered in the past year are reorganized. Television will
      be a crucial factor for binding together the country when sovereignty
      passes to the Iraqis this summer, and will someday be the centerpiece
      of efforts to conduct free elections there.
      Veteran broadcaster Stephen Claypole is chairman of the
      London-based broadcast consulting company DMA-Media, Ltd. Last year,
      he served as temporary international media adviser to what was then
      known as the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in
      Iraq, bringing to the job his previous experience in Kosova. Like
      other Westerners and Iraqis brought to the project, Claypole was
      initially filled with enthusiasm at the prospect of helping Iraqi
      television get back on its feet with the creation of the Iraq Media
      Network (IMN).
      "At the moment the statue of [former Iraqi President] Saddam
      [Hussein] came down, the trucks started rolling in from Amman and
      satellite TV became a boom industry, one of the few success stories,"
      he told "RFE/RL Media Matters" in a recent interview. At least 30-35
      percent of Iraqi homes now have satellite dishes, which are sold at
      bazaars for $100.
      Yet the original IMN project was plagued with difficulties,
      from mismatched equipment and delivery delays to such challenges as
      run-ins with a shady character pretending to be a "director-general"
      and offering "protection," Claypole recalls. "The whole issue of
      broadcasting is symptomatic of the complete shambles of the postwar
      preparations," says Claypole. Aside from technical problems,
      broadcasting suffered from too much effort by the authorities of the
      U.S.-led coalition to exercise "spin control" and manage the news, he
      said. The project wound up serving more as the voice of the
      occupation than the voice of the Iraqi people.
      In January, the Melbourne-based Harris Corporation was
      awarded a one-year, $96 million contract from the Pentagon to develop
      and operate the Iraq Media Network. The company will equip two
      national radio channels and two national television channels -- one
      for entertainment and one for news -- and will be assisted by
      Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International and Al Fawares, a
      Kuwaiti company with Iraqi ownership. A good portion of the budget
      will have to go to security for the studios, which will be inside the
      "Green Zone," and for the transmitters outside it.
      The new management and infusion of funds could mean the
      project will get on a sounder footing. Claypole is hoping for its
      success, but remains somewhat skeptical. "If the IMN continues to be
      a mouthpiece for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and the
      Americans, it will have a very low audience. But if the intention is
      to transmogrify it into a public-service broadcaster for Iraq [that
      is] guided by an independent board and system of governance, it might
      pick up a substantial audience," he said. "But it will always be
      tainted by having been once the voice of the CPA."
      Claypole believes a great deal of training will be needed for
      broadcasters and that editorial content will need a "huge amount of
      work." Although many questions have been raised about the
      effectiveness of the so-called Marshal Plan of Advice given to the
      former Soviet Union in the form of seminars and technical assistance
      during the 1990s, Claypole says a lot of funding should be invested
      in training. "You need to create an Iraqi management team that will
      understand the advantages of being independent and promoting freedom
      of expression and liberty," he said. For that, the right influential
      people must be put into place.
      One veteran of media regulation who is determined to help
      bring about professional and independent media in Iraq is Simon
      Haselock. After tours of duty in Kosova and Bosnia-Herzegovina
      working to change a climate of hate-filled airwaves, Haselock was
      named director of media development and regulation with the CPA in
      Iraq this year. In a recent interview with "RFE/RL Media Matters,"
      Haselock denied that he would serve as any kind of censor. Instead,
      he said, he will attempt to get a public-service broadcasting station
      up and running, using the old Iraqi state-run terrestrial station as
      a foundation.
      "We do not want the future Iraqi broadcasting to be a state
      organ. We want to make it a public service," Haselock said,
      contrasting the type of state broadcasting manipulated by the Hussein
      regime with government-funded public broadcasting in the vein of the
      Among Haselock's first tasks is to help create a
      governing body for the media that will be representative of the
      audience. Unlike Bosnia, where he had greater control, the Iraq
      project will be run differently. "What we learned from other places
      is that you want to use the local people at very early stages. You
      shouldn't run it for them, and then hand it over to them at some
      stage," he said.
      L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civil administrator for Iraq,
      announced on 24 March that a new Iraqi Communications and Media
      Commission (ICMC) will soon be in place to regulate publicly owned
      media and to create a Public-Broadcasting Service (PBS). Haselock
      anticipates that some 18 Iraqis will be selected from about 30
      nominees -- nine for the ICMC and nine for the PBS. The selection
      process will be a "three-way choice" between the CPA, the Governing
      Council, and its media committee.
      Asked about the composition of the ICMC, Haselock deflected
      concerns that the process could be as politicized and contentious as
      was the recent drafting of the interim Iraqi Constitution. "The
      criteria are very strict. They will be proven people of impeccable
      reputation, recognized stature," he said. The commissioners will not
      necessarily be broadcasters and will not be chosen on the basis of
      ethnic or religious affiliations, but on the basis of their public
      The job of the ICMC will be to regulate the frequency
      spectrum and to issue broadcasting licenses. Like many things in
      Iraq, the media effort appears to be rushing to closure before the 30
      June deadline for the handover of power. After that, Haselock has
      been asked to remain as an adviser and is considering that
      possibility. He also anticipates that a tender will be mounted for
      two commercial television stations that will be formed to compete
      with the PBS.
      Meanwhile, what are Iraqis watching now? By the CPA's own
      admission, in a seven-city survey conducted in October by the U.S.
      State Department, only 36 percent of those polled about their viewing
      habits said they rely on the CPA-sponsored IMN for news, although 62
      percent said they get their news from local television. (See the
      complete survey at
      .html.) Among Iraqis with satellite access (estimated at one-third of
      those polled), the pan-Arab channel Al-Arabiyah (37 percent) and the
      Qatar-based Al-Jazeera (26 percent) were the networks of choice for
      news. But among those Iraqis with only local television, 59 percent
      said they depend on the IMN for news about their country, the CPA
      Western commentators generally view the content of the Arabic
      stations, which is often critical of the occupation, as biased. In
      February, the Iraqi Governing Council barred Al-Jazeera from covering
      its official activities because it had allegedly "shown disrespect to
      prominent religious and national figures," AP reported 31 January.
      The reason was a show called "Israeli Infiltration In Iraq" that
      claimed that IGC members and political figures are being influenced
      by Israel. Al-Arabiyah was also banned from IGC events after airing
      an audiotape purportedly of Hussein urging Iraqis to resist the
      U.S.-led occupation. The twin topics of the Israeli occupation of
      Palestine and the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq are endless, deeply
      felt subjects for Arabic television, which experts say has become
      much better at spot-news coverage and open debate than it was a
      decade ago. But it is still not covering most Arab governments with
      quite the same critical eye it has for the West.
      Avi Jorish, a Middle East scholar writing for the "Middle
      East Quarterly" (Winter 2004), is concerned not only about
      anti-Americanism, but about the celebration of radical Islam on some
      pan-Arabic television that can encourage violence. Al-Manar -- the
      official television station of the Lebanon-based Hizballah, a
      terrorist group supported by Iran -- is undermining the Iraqi
      occupation throughout the region, Jorish says. The station's
      satellite broadcasts provide heavy coverage of the Palestinian
      intifada and Islamist resistance in general.
      Jorish obtained an interview with Al-Manar officials in which
      they admitted that they cover and promote Palestinian
      suicide-bombings as acts of martyrdom, while not actually directing
      them. An Al-Manar graphics specialist told Jorish that music videos
      are used to "help people on the way to committing what you in the
      West call a suicide mission." Al-Manar was the first station to
      broadcast the canard that Jews stayed home from work and survived the
      11 September 2001 World Trade Center attacks. And, since the military
      campaign in Iraq, it has repeatedly broadcast people chanting the
      slogan "Death to America."
      Haselock and others knowledgeable about the media scene in
      Iraq say that while the audience for Al-Manar might be growing in the
      Arab world, viewership in Iraq is low. The CPA's figures put it
      at 1 percent among those who have access to satellite television.
      While a law on television and regulations for satellite
      television will soon be drafted, the ICMC obviously cannot control
      stations outside of Iraq. Asked about the problem of inciting hatred
      and violence on some Arabic stations, as well as the anti-American
      rhetoric, Haselock commented: "Why should we do anything about it? We
      should be concentrating on whether there is plurality. TV should be
      good enough so that people want to watch it. The only way to take on
      the Al-Jazeeras is to produce good TV."
      The United States recently launched the Arab-language
      satellite-television station Al-Hurra to battle for hearts and minds
      in the Arab world, mindful of how much anti-American sentiment is
      bolstered and fostered by television.
      Although the kind of regulation that Haselock did in Bosnia
      is credited by press freedom monitors such as Freedom House with
      removing hatred and gross bias from Bosnian television, Haselock
      believes that his function in Iraq -- and that of the new commission
      -- will not so much be to regulate heavily as to create an
      environment in which public and commercial broadcasting can flourish.
      He likens the job to establishing the field demarcations and rules
      for a soccer match. "You need to set rules, which both teams have
      agreed to, and both teams must accept an arbiter and the consequences
      if people transgress rules," he reasoned.
      Groups like the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) are
      more immediately concerned now with securing the safety of the
      players on the field. Twenty-one journalists have been killed in the
      line of duty since the cessation of hostilities, including a sharp
      spike in the last few weeks. Two Al-Arabiyah journalists were killed
      by U.S. troops in an incident at a checkpoint on 18 March. The same
      day, a journalist for the CPA-backed Diyala TV was killed and several
      others injured when unknown assailants fired on a company bus in
      Baqouba. The CPJ says that journalists face attacks on their hotels,
      deliberate shootings for their reporting, carjackings and hold-ups,
      and random incidents related to working in a war zone. On 24 March,
      an Iraqi translator working for "Time" magazine was shot and severely
      injured in what "The New York Times" described as "the latest in a
      series of attacks on Iraqis working for Western news organizations."
      Joel Campagna, Middle East expert at the CPJ, says that while
      his organization has called Iraq "the most dangerous place in the
      world" for journalists, Iraqi reporters have made an impressive
      comeback after years of being shackled by oppressive censorship.
      While satellite television is booming, terrestrial television is also
      very influential, Campagna told "RFE/RL Media Matters," especially
      taking into account reports of viewers in various regions of Iraq and
      throughout the region. He also noted that there is an explosion of
      newspapers, from professional dailies to extremely partisan magazines
      and tabloids -- papers that Haselock says will be more difficult to
      regulate than television.
      The drafting of the new media law is being closely watched by
      many foreign and domestic experts and by journalists in Iraq. A key
      issue will be whether insult and libel will be a crime punishable by
      imprisonment, and whether prosecutors will be entitled to file libel
      cases to defend public officials. Havelock and groups like the CPJ
      favor the liberal international norm of making libel a civil offense,
      but they can only make recommendations to the Iraqis themselves, who
      must draft and live with the law.

      Catherine A. Fitzpatrick is the editor of "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies."

      IRAQI MEDIA STILL A WORK IN PROGRESS. An editorial published by Iraqi
      reporter Hiwa Osman in "The Washington Post" on 21 March highlighted
      the current state of the media in Iraq. While the mere existence of
      some 200 newspapers is a profound development from just one year ago,
      when former President Saddam Hussein's state-run media was the
      sole source of information for most Iraqis, the quality of reporting
      remains weak and, at times, sensational, Osman points out. "Purging
      Iraq of the type of thinking and journalism [Hussein] fostered" has
      proven to be a real challenge, she writes.
      Osman, who works with London-based Institute for War and
      Peace Reporting (IWPR), is helping train Iraqi journalists on
      journalistic standards. The IWPR has set up a training center in the
      Mansur District of Baghdad with the support of the U.K. Department
      for International Development (DFID). The organization is conducting
      journalism-training programs in the northern Iraqi city of
      Al-Sulaymaniyah as well.
      The Baghdad center has already trained some 100 journalists,
      many with no prior experience in reporting, IWPR Iraq Program Manager
      Maggy Zanger told "RFE/RL Iraq Report" in a 24 March e-mail. Zanger
      said that many journalists ask for additional one-on-one training
      after participating in the center's three-week training course.
      The center appears to have had a positive impact on Iraqi
      journalists. Some 15-20 reporter-trainees regularly attend weekly
      editorial meetings to pitch story ideas as well, she said. The BBC
      World Service Trust is also working to train Iraqi journalists and to
      set up local and regional radio and television broadcasting stations
      in southern Iraq, according to the DFID website
      The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) also appears intent
      on raising journalistic standards in Iraq. CPA administrator L. Paul
      Bremer announced on 24 March that he will establish an Iraqi
      Communications and Media Commission (ICMC) and an Iraqi
      public-broadcasting service, RFE/RL reported. "In a country such as
      Iraq is today, government-owned media exists to inform the public,
      not to promote the political interests of the president or the prime
      minister of the moment. For that reason, I intend soon to establish a
      new Iraqi Communications and Media Commission which will regulate
      these publicly owned media," Bremer said in a public address marking
      the 100-day countdown to the 30 June transfer of sovereignty.
      "Like the oil beneath the ground, Iraq's airwaves belong
      to all the Iraqi people. To ensure that these airwaves are
      administered in the public interest, I will create the
      public-broadcasting service to take care of the public broadcasting
      and the Iraqi communications commission will administer their use
      independently of the government," he added.
      Meanwhile, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
      on 19 March issued a report that concluded there is a "determination
      [among Iraqi media professionals] to break the stranglehold of
      political control" (http://ifj.org). The organization contends that
      Iraqi journalists are subject to measures that try to "discipline,
      control, and censor information" in Iraq. In a separate report issued
      on 15 March, the IFJ accused U.S. authorities in Iraq of attempting
      to "control and intimidate" the media (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 19
      March 2004). The report cited the detention of journalists and
      unknown "internal regulations" enforced by the U.S.-led coalition in
      Iraq to control journalists as well as new rules initiated by the
      coalition that require journalists to register and to obtain
      coalition-issued press cards to work in Iraq.
      The IFJ is not alone in its criticism of the coalition in
      recent days. Some 30 Iraqi journalists voiced their outrage at a 19
      March press conference in Baghdad attended by Bremer and U.S.
      Secretary of State Colin Powell over the killing of two Al-Arabiyah
      journalists in Iraq last week, apparently at the hands of coalition
      forces. Powell pledged a full investigation, but said that
      "terrorists" were responsible for the killings, the website of the
      "Los Angeles Times" reported on 20 March. "At a scene where
      there's been a battle or an explosion or something of that
      nature, there tends to be confusion," Powell told reporters.
      "Mistakes happen. Tragedies can occur." At least 21 journalists have
      been killed in Iraq over the past year, according to the Committee to
      Protect Journalists.
      Meanwhile, the U.S. Army released a report on 22 March into
      the 17 August death of Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana, the news agency
      reported. Dana was killed by a U.S. soldier outside the Abu Ghurayb
      prison in Baghdad. The report said the soldier who shot Dana had
      "reasonable certainty" that Dana was about to fire a rocket-propelled
      grenade. The report concluded that a lack of procedures for
      communicating the presence of journalists among U.S. troops
      contributed to the incident. Dana was carrying his camera and
      reportedly had alerted U.S. troops to his presence at the prison
      before he was shot, according to Reuters. (For more information on
      the current media environment in Iraq, see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 27
      November 2003). (Kathleen Ridolfo)


      IRANIAN NEWS AGENCIES FLOURISHING. The Azad News Agency started
      producing test dispatches on 16 March and will begin its regular
      service in May, becoming the newest example of a recent flourishing
      of such agencies in Iran. Azad becomes Iran's ninth news agency.
      The country's official Islamic Republic News Agency
      (IRNA) began life as Pars Agency in 1934. The Foreign Ministry and,
      later, other state institutions ran it until 1963, when the
      Information Ministry took over and renamed it Pars News Agency. After
      the Islamic revolution in 1979, the Information Ministry was renamed
      the Guidance Ministry, and Pars News Agency was renamed IRNA. In
      September 2001, current IRNA head Abdullah Nasseri-Taheri took over
      from Fereidun Verdinejad, who had run the agency for 10 years. IRNA
      publishes several publications, including the Persian-language
      "Iran," the English-language "Iran Daily," and a monthly about
      interior design called "Iran-i Azin." IRNA's website is
      The Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), which receives some
      government funding and is affiliated with the University Jihad, a
      state-backed students' organization, began operations in 1998.
      The agency writes about issues relevant to students, and ISNA
      Director-General Abolfazl Fateh complained that in June 2003 police
      beat him with batons after he objected to their throwing stones at
      protesting students (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 June 2003). Its
      website is http://www.isna.ir
      The privately owned Fars News Agency received its license in
      November 1998, Reuters reported at the time. It actually began
      operating in 2002 and is headed by Said Najar-Nobari, who previously
      headed the Tehran Justice Department's public relations bureau.
      Other individuals associated with Fars News Agency have a similarly
      conservative background. Managing Editor Mehdi Fazel is editor in
      chief of the daily "Javan," and the board of directors includes
      "Farda" editor Alireza Shemirani and "Resalat" journalists Abdullah
      Moghaddam and Akbar Nabavi. Its website is http://www.farsnews.com
      The Pupils Association News Agency started operation in
      September 2002 as a joint effort of the Education Ministry and the
      Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry. It is affiliated with IRNA,
      and its objectives include training reporters and reporting news that
      interests students. Its website is http://www.irna.ir/pana
      SHANA (Shabakeh-yi Ettelaat-i Naft va Energi) News Agency,
      which is affiliated with the Petroleum Ministry, began work in early
      2003, according to a December dispatch from IRNA. Its website is
      Affiliated with the Worker's House (Khaneh-yi Kargar)
      labor organization, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) was launched
      in February 2003. It is headed by Masud Heidari and one of its
      founders was Ali-Reza Mahjoub of the Islamic Labor Party. Heidari
      said on 10 December 2002 that the agency would discuss workers'
      demands, IRNA reported. However, it does not seem to run any more
      worker-related news than other agencies do. Its website is
      Veterans of the Iran-Iraq War founded Mehr News Agency on 22
      June 2003. Its managing director is Parviz Ismaili, a columnist with
      the conservative "Entekhab" newspaper. Its website is
      The establishment of Mowj News Agency was announced in "Iran"
      in July 2003, while ILNA reported that it began trial operations in
      September 2003. Its website is http://www.mowjnews.com
      The newest entrant is Azad News Agency, which is affiliated
      with the Islamic Open University, Azad chief Mohammad Reza Karimi
      said, adding that its objectives are communicating with and
      exchanging information with the world's other universities, IRNA
      reported on 16 March. "The [Islamic Open University], with more than
      2.5 million students and graduates, 25,000 academic staff, and 220
      branches across Iran and abroad, is the largest Iranian university
      and academic complex, and therefore the establishment of a news
      agency to cover the above mentioned meets a longstanding need,"
      Karimi said. Karimi added that the agency will have offices in Ahvaz,
      Arak, Isfahan, Kerman, Mashhad, Shiraz, Sari, Semnan, Tabriz, and
      Tehran. Its website is http://www.ana.ir (Bill Samii)

      IN BRIEF

      KAZAKHSTAN. On 18 March, an RFE/RL feature focused on the recent
      passage of a new media law in Kazakhstan that many journalists and
      media watchers consider repressive. The piece also discusses recent
      court cases and incidents of violence against journalists, all of
      which taken together have prompted media organizations such as
      Reporters Without Borders to decry the state of press freedom in the
      country. (See the complete RFE/RL report at

      KOSOVA. On 19 March, an RFE/RL feature highlighted the role of the
      media in the recent outbreak of violence in Kosova. Local television
      "broadcast repeatedly" an interview with a 13-year-old ethnic
      Albanian boy who was the lone survivor of an attack when two Serbs
      let loose their dogs on him and three others. Those broadcasts
      reportedly fanned outrage in the community and ignited the violence
      that has claimed some 30 lives. Authorities are now investigating
      whether the media acted responsibly. (See the complete RFE/RL report

      UKRAINE. A 12 March RFE/RL feature described a recent European
      Parliament resolution criticizing Ukraine and focusing on Kyiv's
      recent crackdown on the media. Members of the European Parliament
      expressed concern about the recent closures of the newspaper "Silski
      visti" and Radio Kontynent, as well as charges that the
      administration of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has been using
      the secret services to spy on and intimidate journalists. (See the
      complete RFE/RL report at
      DC436B54BC8.html See related stories about media developments in
      Ukraine at
      3AB6FD372F7.html and

      (Compiled by Robert Coalson)
      Copyright (c) 2004. RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved.

      "RFE/RL Media Matters" is prepared by Robert Coalson on the basis
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