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Bush launches U.S. media campaign in address to Iraqi people

WASHINGTON—President Bush issued a televised address to the Iraqi people Thursday, launching a massive media campaign that includes a daily newspaper and television and radio broadcasts.

It's all part of a campaign to win Iraqi hearts and minds.

"The nightmare that Saddam Hussein has brought to your nation will soon be over," Bush said in the address, which was subtitled in Arabic. "In the new era that is coming to Iraq, your country will no longer be held captive to the will of a cruel dictator," Bush said.

The address, broadcast on the new station Towards Freedom TV, included a similar message from British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Both leaders assured Iraqis that the coalition will keep its commitment to eradicate Saddam's regime. "We will help you build a peaceful and representative government that protects the rights of all citizens. And then our military forces will leave," Bush said.

The White House said the media campaign would lay the foundation for a free press in Iraq.

"Free press is a crucial part of free Iraq, and we anticipate that beginning to happen," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

The Department of Defense is running the information campaign. Five hours of TV programming are to be transmitted five days a week from military aircraft and ground facilities to the same stations that previously carried Iraqi state television. Translations will also be broadcast on radio signals.

In southern Iraq, coalition forces were to begin publishing Thursday an Arabic-language daily newspaper called "The Times," with an initial circulation of 10,000 copies.

Fleischer said the information program was an expansion of Commando Solo, a military operation in which aircraft have been beaming radio messages to Iraq, "so the people of Iraq can find out what the truth is."

Because it is controlled by the military—and not by a private nongovernmental body—the program raises questions of whether the content is simply propaganda.

Marvin Kalb, a former CBS newsman who examines media ethics at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, said that given Iraq's history without a free press, "most Iraqis may believe in any case that journalism works for the government. They might regard it as normal."

Kalb said post-war Germany and Japan had press structures that were initially loaded with pro-Western propaganda. "Within a brief period of time, they understood the difference between a government-controlled media operation and an independent media operation and drifted toward the latter."

Using that example, Kalb said: "It is possible that Iraqi journalists who have never in their history had a free press, maybe for them this is a beginning, a first step, they will begin to understand the difference between the two."

The White House said the various outlets would disseminate news and interviews, and might feature briefings by the coalition governments and rebroadcasts from independent news organizations.

Fleischer rejected suggestions that Iraqis might view the Pentagon-sponsored media blitz as substituting one form of state propaganda for another.

"I think it's entirely appropriate, from the president's point of view, for (the Department of Defense) to be involved in this. It remains a dangerous country, where DOD assets are needed to field these missions. And I think it's best judged by observing the content of what is shown to the Iraqi people. . . . Let them be the judges of that content," the White House spokesman said.

The military media campaign is apparently independent of existing radio transmissions into Iraq under the auspices of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which already broadcasts independent Arabic language radio news and content into Iraq. Though federally funded, BBG maintains a strict "firewall" between its broadcasts and government policy, seeking to present independent and objective content, spokeswoman Joan Mawer said.

"Our position is the more voices the better. We believe in the free press. Democracy is a variety of voices," Mawer said.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.