By Elaine Hargrove-Simon, Silha Fellow and Bulletin Editor
Although the war with tanks and planes may have ended in Iraq, another
war continues. But rather than being fought with bombs and gunfire, this
war is a war of ideas, and will be fought over Iraqi airwaves.
The battle actually began before bombs began falling on Baghdad. Radio Sawa, a service of U.S. International Broadcasting, is operated and funded by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), an agency of the U.S. government. Radio Sawa began broadcasting in the Middle East a month after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
Radio Sawa is the brainchild of Norman J. Pattiz, the founder of the Westwood One radio network. In October 2002, Forbes named Westwood One as one of the year's "200 Best Small Companies." At its Web site at www.westwoodone.com, the company describes itself as "the largest domestic outsource provider of traffic reporting services and the nation's largest radio network, producing and distributing national news, sports, talk [and other programs], in addition to local news, sports, weather, video news and other information programming."
Former President Bill Clinton named Pattiz to the BBG. According to the BBG's Web site, the organization is "a nine-member, presidentially appointed body which supervises all U.S. government-supported non-military international broadcasting, including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, Radio and TV Marti, and WORLDNET Television." According to the New York Times, the organization was created to be a "firewall," preventing the administration from dictating program content to the BBG.
RAND, the nonprofit institution specializing in research and analysis, posted an article on its Web site stating that Pattiz, the only radio professional on the BBG's board, reviewed the "broadcast environment" in the Middle East, traveling to the area and analyzing the effectiveness of Voice of America (VOA) on the region. He found that only 2 percent of people living in the region had heard of VOA, and fewer listened to it. The Middle East itself was experiencing a "media war" with "many broadcasters promoting misinformation and messages meant to incite hatred and violence against the United States," according to the RAND report.
Pattiz hired a marketing firm to find a receptive audience in the Middle East and to analyze how to appeal to it. He learned that 65 percent of the people in the region were 25 years of age or younger, and that they lacked a radio station that catered to them. Pattiz also learned that the young people preferred music driven formats interspersed with topics about dating, entertainment, and computers. VOA, with its short-wave radio broadcasts and all talk format, did not appeal to them.
Working with "moderate" Arab governments, Pattiz gained access to FM frequencies and created Radio Sawa (taken from the Arabic word for "together") with a blend of popular music and news. Studies have shown that the station has steadily increased in popularity. The (London) Guardian stated reported that 94 percent of 17 to 20 year olds are tuning in to Radio Sawa. The Bush administration has requested nearly $22 million for Radio Sawa for the 2003 fiscal year.
Another RAND article quoted Pattiz as saying that an "overwhelming majority" of Arabs get their news from television. He depicted current news programs on Al-Jazeera as being similar to "CNN meets Jerry Springer." Discussion programs, according to Pattiz, "are really screaming or yelling matches. . . . If Al-Jazeera had a slogan, it would be 'all intifada all the time.'" In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Pattiz said that the Bush administration has now asked him to launch a nightly news program to be televised in the region. Tentatively named "Iraq and the World," the program will feature contributions from CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS and Fox News. (CNN declined to participate in the project, the Los Angeles Times reported.) Programs will be translated into Arabic and will initially be broadcast in six-hour blocks because the transmitting must
be done via Commando Solo, a fleet of U.S. military cargo planes that fly over the region. Six hours is "how long the plane can stay up," Pattiz told the Los Angeles Times. But he also said that ground transmitters should be set up relatively quickly, eliminating the need for the program to be broadcast from the aircraft.
The mission of the programming is "a journalistic one," Pattiz said. "Our mission is to promote freedom and democracy through the flow of accurate, reliable, and credible news and information about America to audiences overseas. Our mission is to be an example of a free press in the American tradition."
RAND states that key members of House and Senate authorizations committees have "signed on" to the idea of Middle Eastern Television. The Orlando Sentinel reported that President Bush plans to launch the television network by the end of the year. Reportedly $30.5 million in taxpayer funds has already been designated for start-up costs, and Congress is being asked to designate another $30 million for 2004.
But not everyone agrees with Pattiz's assessment of the programming.
"If we want to demonstrate the robustness of democracy, we should also be beaming the BBC and half a dozen other sources of international news with this effort," Marty Kaplan, associate dean at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and the director of the Norman Lear Center for the Study of Entertainment and Society said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "Let's show [Iraqis] that democracy involves this kind of glorious noise in which people disagree with each other all the time."