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Last Updated: Friday, 11 April, 2003, 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK
New media plans for new Iraq
By Peter Feuilherade
BBC monitoring

The US and British Governments have set up a new Arabic-language TV channel for viewers in Iraq, named "Towards Freedom".

US President George W Bush addresses the Iraqi people on Thursday
Direct broadcasts from the West are part of a to change Iraq

President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair broadcast direct to the Iraqi people on the new TV station when it was launched on 10 April.

The broadcasts are transmitted on a frequency of Iraqi state TV from specially-equipped US C-130 Hercules aircraft flying over Iraq.

They provide news and "coalition public service announcements", a Downing Street spokesman added.

The new US-UK TV channel will initially be available to viewers in central Iraq, including Baghdad, before being extended nationwide.

Programming has been agreed following discussions with the Iraqi exile community in London.

The service will last until a "proper, free and open" media can be established, a UK Foreign Office spokesman said.

Meanwhile the US Arabic-language station Radio Sawa, the Voice of America's Kurdish service and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Radio Free Iraq are all being broadcast from FM transmitters in Irbil and Sulaymaniyah in northern Iraq.

And the BBC Arabic Service has launched Lifeline, a 10-minute daily programme to link people across the Middle East and the Arab diaspora around the world with friends and family in Iraq.

People can call a UK telephone number to leave voice messages for their relatives and friends.

New media plans

As Iraqis wait for the US to announce the names of the officials who will take over the interim administration of their country, significant changes are already under way in the country's media.

Footage of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein holding a child shown on 4 April
Saddam was ever present on the Iraqi state television

The London-based newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat reported that plans were under way to launch a new radio station broadcasting inside Iraq.

"There are plans to move a number of journalists and presenters working in Kurdistan to another city in Iraq to set up a radio station targeting Iraqis inside the country," the paper said on 9 April.

"In addition, a new Arabic daily newspaper that carries reports on the developments of the war will be published to enlighten the Iraqis and mobilise support for the coalition forces."

Most official Iraqi state media remain unheard by BBC Monitoring.

However, on 10 April Republic of Iraq Radio Main Service was traced by BBC Monitoring in northern Iraq on a frequency used in the past by Republic of Iraq's Kurdish radio service.

Programming consisted of readings from the Holy Koran and patriotic songs about Saddam Hussein and jihad (holy war).

Psy-ops broadcasts

Radio Tikrit, launched in February 2003, continues to broadcast material critical of Saddam Hussein.

An Iraqi boy holds up a newspaper given to him by a British soldier
Will the Western-style media be able to take roots in Iraq?

The broadcast heard by BBC Monitoring on 9 April included a rap song in English by a comic pretending to be Saddam Hussein with lyrics including "Everybody in the house say we hate you".

The broadcast also contained repeated appeals to the people of Baghdad to remain calm and not to loot public buildings such as ministries and hospitals because such scenes could be viewed around the world on TV.

Another Iraqi opposition radio station, Twin Rivers Radio, on 9 April broadcast calls to Iraqi soldiers telling them that US-led forces meant them no harm.

It said their aim, rather, was to liberate them.

Twin Rivers Radio, operated by the Iraqi National Accord, was first heard in February 2002, and is believed to broadcast from a transmitter in Kuwait.

The station also broadcast instructions to the Iraqi military telling them how to indicate that they were not hostile, "otherwise they would face the consequences of their actions".

'Last editions'

The London-based international newspaper al-Zaman on 8 April published its first "Basra edition", which is being distributed in Basra, Umm Qasr, al-Faw, Nasiriya and elsewhere in southern Iraq.

"The newspaper's aim is to reach all Iraqi regions, and reporters in Basra have already started supplying the newspaper with news items and creative writing from Basra," the newspaper said.

The French news agency AFP reported on 9 April that many residents of Baghdad had rushed out that morning to buy "souvenir copies" of the four official Iraqi newspapers.

An official from one of the dailies told AFP that morning's editions were "the last ones".

New media landscape

The officials of the shadow Iraqi government gathered in Kuwait are expected to work under Jay Garner, the retired US general designated to head non-military operations once the war in Iraq ends.

They include Robert Reilly, a former director of the Voice of America.

Mr Reilly is reported to be working with Iraqi exiles on developing radio broadcasting in the future Iraq.

The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Federation of Arab Journalists are to meet in the Moroccan capital Rabat on 12 April to discuss how to help the media in Iraq to move forward, the Iranian news agency IRNA reported.

Developing a free and democratic press after the fall of Saddam's regime is high on the priorities of the US and Britain.

Journalists' organisations, as well as international broadcasters, are keen to have their say also in how the Iraqi media landscape evolves.

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