- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2003

The U.S. government plans to begin an Arabic-language television news channel that would compete with Al Jazeera and other satellite channels in a region long-suspicious of the United States.

“Our mission is a journalistic mission; we do not have a political agenda,” said Norman Pattiz, chairman of the Middle East Committee of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors.

“Our purpose is to give a wide variety of views and opinions about the American culture,” he told reporters during a recent press conference by video link from Los Angeles.

In launching a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week Arabic-language television network, the U.S. broadcasting board expects to reach about 170 million people across the region, a market dominated by Al Jazeera, Mr. Pattiz said.

He said the Middle East Television Network would begin broadcasting in December.

The Qatar-based Al Jazeera and the other Arabic-language television stations, such as Al Arabiya, based in the United Arab Emirates, have been accused of anti-American bias in their reporting, something the U.S. effort hopes to counter.

“We expect that a major portion of our programs, probably between 12 and 15 hours a day, will be news and information programs,” he said. Programs for children and families, as well as movies, will be broadcast the rest of the day.

The budget for the first year of operation is about $62 million, he said.

The board is responsible for U.S. government and government-sponsored international broadcasting services. It also supervises radio and television stations all around the world.

The most famous of these is Voice of America, which provides news in 53 languages to more than 90 million people.

“Our mission is to promote freedom and democracy by broadcasting news and information about the United States around the world,” said Kenneth Tomlinson, chairman of the broadcasting board.

In March last year, the broadcasting board created Radio Sawa, a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week Arabic-language network.

It is listened to by 31.6 percent of the population of Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait among those 15 years and older, according to a board report released Thursday.

In addition to Arabic and Western pop music, Radio Sawa broadcasts more than 325 newscasts per week from studios in Washington and Dubai, via on-air FM stations, satellites and the Internet.

The report said Radio Sawa is the leading international broadcaster in all Middle Eastern countries surveyed.

“Our listeners believe that our news [programs] are reliable and credible,” Mr. Pattiz said.

The survey showed that 41 percent of Sawa listeners consider themselves favorably inclined toward the United States, while 23 percent of nonlisteners like the United States.

“It’s very clear that we have an impact on our listeners, but we are not a propaganda machine,” said Mr. Pattiz, explaining that the board is working to persuade those who already are persuaded of the American culture and values.

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