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Last Updated:  Thursday, 27 March, 2003, 14:06 GMT
Where do Iraqis get their news?
By Kathryn Westcott
BBC News Online

Iraqi state television and radio has been struggling to broadcast over the past few days, following US bombing raids on Baghdad. And in Basra, the country's second city, British forces have taken state media off the air completely after destroying transmitters in the early hours of Thursday.

So, how does this leave Iraqis in terms of their access to coverage of the war?

State-run television is struggling to broadcast
Iraqis watch television in the Ministry of Information
Since the war began, the official media have limited details to Iraqi citizens. It has aired morale-boosting speeches by Saddam Hussein, news of fresh victories by Iraqi troops, footage of prisoners of war, and given details of rewards for downed coalition aircraft and captured soldiers.

But there have been no pictures of Western troop movements and none of the vivid footage of the relentless bombing of the capital, which has been the daily diet of the few with access to international stations.

Only a handful of Iraqis - some 4,000 mostly military personnel and political elite - can either afford or are allowed access to the state-run subscription service to international channels. Ordinary Iraqis are banned from owning satellite dishes.

About 14 channels, handpicked by the regime, are available via the subscription service. These include international news outfits, such as CNN, al-Jazeera and BBC World and the new Abu Dhabi TV. In recent days, this service, too, has been interrupted.

Radio usage across the country is widespread, with many Iraqis turning to outside broadcasts. There have been reports that the government tried to jam these broadcasts in the early days of the war.

US-backed stations

According to BBC Monitoring, based in south-east England, there are no audience figures for who listens to what in Iraq, but anecdotal evidence suggests that popular international stations include the BBC World Service and BBC Arabic Service, the French station Radio Monte Carlo - which UK Prime Minister Tony Blair chose as the medium to send a message to the Iraqi people - and a relatively new American station, Radio Sawa.

Radio Sawa is a government-funded radio station in Arabic. It is seen by the US administration as the principle means of communicating with the 250 million people across the Arab world.

Not all Iraqis have access to international TV stations
Kurdish fighters in the north watch Abu Dhabi TV
Radio Sawa (the name means "together" in Arabic) has a mix of Western and Arabic pop music and half-hourly news bulletins. It has a special stream for Iraq.

According to BBC Monitoring's Peter Feuilherade, there is a long history in Iraq and throughout the Arab world of people tuning in to international stations.

"Ownership of short-wave radios is widespread - it's part of the culture. Iraqis make it their business to be well-informed," he says.

This could be one reason why there is such a high proportion of opposition radio stations, and why the US administration has used the medium to a great extent in its war for the hearts and minds of Iraqis.

Operating on Iraq's borders are the US "psy-ops" fleet: Air Force cargo planes that have been modified into flying TV and radio stations. These so-called Commando Solo planes have the ability to broadcast in real-time and interrupt the state-run media.

Opposition

They broadcast messages, including appeals for officers to surrender, that have been prepared by the 4th Psychological Operations Group at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld recently announced that he wanted his press conferences to be broadcast by Commando Solo.

Saddam Hussein on state-run TV
Saddam Hussein has been giving "morale-boosting" speeches on TV
Millions of leaflets have been dropped urging Iraqis to tune in.

The US is believed to also have a hand in Radio Tikrit, a new station that urges Republican Guards to desert their posts and calls on senior members of the ruling Baath Party to "abandon Saddam and the regime"

News bulletins report on the progress of "allied troops" and British and US pronouncements are aired.

It is believed to be broadcast from a CIA transmitter in Kuwait.

The US is also thought to be backing Voice of the Liberation, which is broadcast from Sulaymaniyah in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. It is believed to be run by opposition Iraqis but this has never been announced by the station.

According to US-based ClandestineRadio.com, which monitors such stations, it portrays itself as a guerrilla-run station, broadcasting psy-op messages aimed at enlisted soldiers and Republican Guard officers.

Turning off

BBC Monitoring's Peter Feuilherade says it is important not to over-emphasise the impact of such stations. While people may tune in out of curiosity, he says, they tend to drift back to their favourite stations.

But, according to one British Iraqi with family in Baghdad, the old favourites may be turning into new enemies.

Mohammed Aref, a media consultant in the United Arab Emirates, says Iraqis that he is in regular contact with are beginning to turn off Western media.

"There is a growing perception that the Western media is portraying a false picture of what is going on," he told BBC News Online.

"There is a lot of suspicion about what is coming from the West. Iraqis feel they are the ones that are on the ground, they know what is going on.

"Many Iraqis are beginning to feel victimised by the Americans and the British, and this is becoming evident in their attitude to the media. Some are beginning to see much of the broadcasting as offensive," he says.

He says the Western media are perceived to be losing the battle to broadcasting outfits such as al-Jazeera.

"Extended families are gathering at places where there is access to information," he says. "While they may not be able to see images on stations such as al-Jazeera and other international stations, they hear about them."

He adds that the mosque is becoming an important place for the dissemination of information.

"At the mosque Iraqis will definitely be discussing the scenes of bombs raining down on the capital, the scenes of injured Iraqi children and so on."

But, he warns that while there is an enormous appetite for information - Iraqis are becoming increasingly discerning.

"If they begin to equate the media with the enemy, they will simply switch off," he says.




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