Bush targets Arabic TV audiences

US President George W. Bush is asking Congress for US$30 million to start a pro-American TV station in the Middle East. The US government-run station would beam out news, entertainment, and talk shows in Arabic in an attempt to boost American popularity in the region.

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By  Marcus Webb Published  February 25, 2003

President Bush is asking Congress for US$30 million to start a pro-American TV station in the Middle East. The US government-run station would beam out news, entertainment, and talk shows in Arabic and is being groomed to compete with Al-Jazeera, the popular satellite Arab TV network based in Qatar.

Several Hollywood executives have reportedly expressed interest in putting their shows, either new or syndicated, on the new network. The overall goal of the station is to lessen rampant anti-American feelings among younger Arabs.

The plan for the Arabic TV channel is just one aspect of far-reaching changes the United States has announced to its external broadcasting strategy. Some analysts describe them as among the most far reaching ever implemented.

The basic change is to refocus US external broadcasting away from Cold War-era targets such as eastern Europe towards the Middle East and Indonesia. Digital Studio first reported on the project several months ago, when the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees all non-military US international broadcasting, first asked for an extra $50 million to pay for new TV and radio output to its new target areas.
A key element of the new strategy envisages the launch of a Middle East Television Network (METN) in Arabic at a cost of $30m.

According to a BBG press release press release, the new channel will broadcast, “accurate news and the message of freedom and democracy.” The BBG’s Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson said the attacks on 11 September 2001 had, “changed the way we must approach international broadcasting. This institution’s task now is to... go forward with the new war of ideas as we offer democracy, tolerance and self-government as the positive alternative to tyranny, fanaticism and terror.”

“Of course, it is an attempt to restore the very bad image of America in that part of the world,” said Professor Laird Anderson, a former special forces officer and communications expert. “If it is more of a straight news and public affairs programme, it will bring credibility.” But, he warned, “If it becomes a shrill, ‘Look at us, look at what we do,’ propaganda machine, it will fail.”

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