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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 May, 2004, 16:51 GMT 17:51 UK
Bush TV gambit reveals US dilemma
By Sebastian Usher
BBC world media reporter

Al-Arabiya logo
Al-Arabiya is taken seriously in the Arab world
The decision by US President George W Bush to address the Middle East public directly by giving interviews to two Arab language satellite stations shows just how important the Americans feel it is to try to repair some of the damage done to the image of the US by the revelations and allegations of torture in Iraq.

The two stations chosen for him to appear on also give an insight into how the US has lost ground in its attempts to get its point of view across to the Arab world.

One of the stations, al-Hurra, is funded and run by the Americans with the aim of presenting news to the Middle East without perceived anti-American bias.

But the other, al-Arabiya, has often been criticised by American officials for what they see as its incitement to violence against US troops.

Al-Hurra was set up nearly three months ago with the express intention of offering Arab viewers an alternative to what the US feels is the biased coverage provided by al-Arabiya and its more famous rival, al-Jazeera.

It followed similar ventures directed at Arab radio listeners and magazine readers.

The idea is that the quality of the entertainment provided by these outlets will attract Arabs, sugaring the pill of news broadcasts that give a more positive view of American actions in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The Americans say the news on al-Hurra does this by being more objective than what is on offer on Arab satellite channels.

But reaction to the station in the Arab world has been largely unfavourable.

Its efforts to appear neutral were undercut from the start by the fact that it is a US government initiative.

Popular platform

So, to get his message across to a wider Arab public, Mr Bush had little alternative but to appear on a station like al-Arabiya, which is taken seriously in the Arab world.

This is despite the fact that American officials have often criticised it for disseminating anti-American views, whether by screening the latest tapes from senior al-Qaeda figures or labelling American military operations in Iraq as essentially aggressive.

The fact that Mr Bush is appearing on a station so often vilified by his supporters is a sign of just how much progress Arab satellite TV stations have made in the past few years in winning the attention and the trust of the Arab world.

It has given them a huge role in determining public opinion in the Middle East and has shown that on the airways at least, Arabs can match the influence of the US.

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