- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2003

The United States is sending anti-terrorism messages to large, young audiences in the Arab world, including Iraq, through Voice of America's Radio Sawa and plans to launch a television network throughout the Middle East.
Senior VOA officials and outside analysts say Radio Sawa which broadcasts a mix of light American rock, Arab pop music and news in Arabic is reaching a fast-growing, youth-oriented audience across the region and getting rave reviews from its target audience.
"If you want your message to have impact in the Middle East, you have to be heard in the medium they want to listen to," said Kenneth Tomlinson, chairman of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees VOA's programming.
Mr. Tomlinson, who was VOA director in the Reagan administration, said in an interview with The Washington Times that the Radio Sawa format has become so popular it is even being praised by Iraqis and Kurds in the North.
"One news service asked Iraqis in Baghdad what they listened to, and a cab driver said he listens to Radio Sawa because 'they have better music and you get the news fast.'"
The New York Times called the service, started six months after the September 11 attacks, "a triumph of the Bush administration's focus on public diplomacy abroad."
VOA's target audience in the Middle East is between the ages of 17 and 28. Surveys show that Radio Sawa has become the dominant station in many cities. One year after the network began broadcasting in Amman, Jordan, a poll of 500 radio listeners found that 86 percent of them had listened to Radio Sawa in the past week, beating all of the Arab programming and the BBC.
As the prospect of a war to topple the Iraqi regime looms, Radio Sawa is becoming one of the administration's strategic information tools to influence public opinion, Mr. Tomlinson said.
Radio Sawa broadcast President Bush's recent speech about U.S. assistance to rebuild Iraq and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's speech to the United Nations that laid out evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
"During the war, it will be all news and interviews to present America's side," Mr. Tomlinson said.
After the hostilities, he said, VOA will broadcast programs about democracy, human rights and religious diversity.
The next "big step" in the VOA's outreach to the Arab world will be a television version of Radio Sawa to compete with the Arab television network Al Jazeera, he said. The administration has budgeted $31 million in the next fiscal year to begin preparations for the new TV programming, but VOA says at least $61 million is needed.
The idea has strong support in the White House from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and bipartisan support in Congress, including Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the Foreign Relations Committee's ranking Democrat. In a sign of the importance the Bush administration puts on the initiative, a budget official told The Times that funding could be inserted in this year's supplemental appropriations bill to finance the war.
The administration said there has to be an alternative to the Al-Jazeera TV operation.
Al-Jazeera was "like David Duke representing the American point of view," Mr. Tomlinson said. "We can't let that be the only point of view."

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