Iraqi Media Network

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Iraqi Media Network (IMN) is a U.S. funded news and entertainment network that consists of the Al Iraqiya television network, the Al-Sabah newspaper, and a radio network. Billed as an Iraqi BBC, IMN was said to promise Iraqis "comprehensive, accurate, fair, and balanced news" and would instill a "code of ethics" in Iraqi journalists. The IMN is not to be confused with the Broadcasting Board of Governors projects Al Hurra and Radio Sawa.

History

After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the U.S. Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in Iraq which later became the Coalition Provisional Authority, created the Iraqi Media Network. The original network contract -- which encompassed eight contracts totaling $108.2 million -- was given to San Diego-based Science Applications International Corporation in March 2003 by the Defense Contracting Command. The network was to be constructed out of the infrastructure of Saddam Hussein's state-run news network to become a "world-class" media operation, including a 24-7 satellite channel, two land-based TV channels, two radio channels, a national newspaper, and TV and film studios in every major region of Iraq. During its initial operation, IMN's $100 million budget, which was part of the $87.5 billion appropriations bil signed in November 2003, comes from Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, a division of the Defense Department that handles psy-ops. [1]

News reports that IMN faced credibility issues and was too closely associated with the CPA came to appear in the fall of 2003. As early as June 2003, the CPA was engaging in censoring Iraqi media, issuing "guidelines" for all media outlets in Iraq, forbidding them from inciting violence or opposition to the occupation authority. "Occasionally, U.S. soldiers have raided newspaper offices deemed to be in breach of the regulations.... But the delicacy of sending heavily armed troops to enforce media rules has prompted the occupation officials to look for other ways to exercise their power to censor," the Washington Post reported in August 2003.[2]

Several seasoned journalists were reported to have quit the IMN out of frustration with CPA oversight. "Critics say the network's mission is weakened by its contradictory goals. So far IMN is touted as both the voice of an occupying military force and an inspiration for Iraqis to produce fair and balanced news coverage. But many Iraqis have already dubbed the network a propaganda organ. (As if to underscore that impression, IMN recently ran a speech by CPA administrator Paul Bremer in which he spoke repeatedly of Hussein as 'the evil one,')" the Village Voice's Cynthia Cotts reported in November 2003.[3] Don North, former senior TV advisor to the IMN, went on record criticizing the CPA's use of the network. "It became a conduit for information from CPA, from Ambassador Bremer. I have no problem with CPA explaining themselves to the Iraqi people," North told NPR's "On the Media." "But not to the detriment of a station that was formed for the Iraqis. Credibility with a radio or TV station is a very fragile commodity, and unfortunately after two or three months, they had destroyed this credibility that I think we started out with."[4]

Simon Haselock, a media supervisor for U.N. authorities overseeing Kosovo, had been chosen as the new media commissioner and oversee IMN in August 2003.[5] But his appointment did not mitigate the perception of IMN as a U.S. propaganda tool.

Another criticism of IMN was that it given the more popular satellite news channels Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, IMN's Al Iraqiya was almost irrelevant. In January 2004 Corpwatch's Pratap Chatterjee reported that IMN's Al Iraqiya radio and television station were failing, citing a common criticism that "Al Iraqiya has no news. Just yesterday's information."[6] IMN's stations also were closely following CPA guidelines that barred the news media from airing or even reporting on anything that might incited violence.

In January 2004, Harris Communications, a company that specializes in designing, manufacturing and installing communications equipment and infrastructure, took over the IMN contract. They received the "$96 million U.S. government contract to equip, rebuild, operate, program and manage the war-torn country's fledgling media network."[7]

To assist with the project, Harris partnered with the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, a Middle Eastern media network, and Al Fawares, a Kuwaiti company with Iraqi ownership which publishes a newspaper in Kuwait and Newsweek in Arabic. "LBC is responsible for training and content programming for the two radio and two television channels (one of news and one for entertainment). Al Fawares will manage the newspaper and train its journalists, and will help expand the newspaper's reach. Harris will lead the project and provide all the necessary transmitters, integration and automation broadcast equipment," Online NewsHour reported in January 2004.[8]

The Weekly Standard reported, "On March 20, the Coalition issued Decree Number 66, signed by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, turning the Iraqi Media Network into the Iraqi Public Service Broadcaster, a government media enterprise equivalent to the British Broadcasting Corporation."[9]