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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 April, 2004, 17:27 GMT 18:27 UK
Baghdad viewers shun home-grown TV
Iraqis watch broadcast of audiotape attributed to Osama Bin Laden
Iraqis watch Al-Jazeera TV in Baghdad cafe

Many viewers in Baghdad have little or no time for coalition-run Iraqi television, turning instead to pan-Arab or foreign broadcasts for their news.

Maysoon al-Kurbasi, who works as a translator in the Iraqi capital, looks at what's on offer there.

Satellite dishes have sprouted on almost every house, even in the slums. Qatari Al-Jazeera and the UAE's Al-Arabiya top the ratings among dish owners.

Some Iraqis have accused these stations of supporting Saddam Hussein. But recently they have earned respect for their extensive coverage of events.

Not that Iraqis like everything they see. While they sense some sympathy with their plight, they are also acutely aware that many news reports rub salt in their wounds.

Objectivity

Coalition authorities have complained that some broadcasts are inflammatory and incite Iraqis to violence.

This may be true in some cases. But most Iraqis are moved, if not offended, by TV pictures of dead women and children, or indeed of coalition soldiers and contractors.

Some Iraqis have even had to cope with the nightmare of having watched a friend, colleague or relative bleed to death of gunshot wounds on live TV.

But above all people want to be free to make up their own minds about what is happening on the ground.

"Objectivity remains the criterion," says Luma, 29, a dentist, critical of the one-sided media under Saddam Hussein.

Her view is shared by 60-year-old Fuad, a retired engineer.

"To make a fair judgment or assessment of events, you need to hear the two sides of the story. We don't want to be spoon-fed by a government or whatever source," he says.

Other stations trusted for news, interviews and in-depth analysis include MBC (Saudi Arabia), LBC, NBN and Al-Manar (Lebanon), as well as Abu Dhabi (UAE).

For English-speaking viewers, BBC World and CNN are the main sources.

Two Iranian channels broadcasting in Arabic, Sahar and Al-Alam TV, are also widely viewed in Baghdad.

Both attracted audiences during the war after the bombing of Iraqi TV transmitters. Now they are viewed by Iraqis without satellite dishes.

Inexperience

Iraqis' lack of trust towards domestic outlets is sometimes attributed to the poor service they provide.

Al-Iraqiyah only quotes what other news agencies and channels have said
Iraqi civil servant

Others point to the legacy of broadcasting under Saddam Hussein, when the regime's achievements were glorified and severe penalties meted out to those who ventured beyond state-sponsored information.

Al-Iraqiyah, the main terrestrial TV station in Baghdad, is funded and operated by the Coalition Provisional Authority. It has a limited number of viewers - mainly drawn from those who refuse to watch satellite channels for religious reasons.

The channel has often failed to provide up-to-date coverage of news inside Iraq, or it has proved inaccurate.

Ban, 39, a Unicef employee, says reports are often contradictory. She blames the young reporters, who she says lack skills and experience.

"Al-Iraqiyah should benefit from the experience of veteran reporters and journalists if it is to stand on solid ground," she says.

Others complain that most of its programmes have already been aired by Arab satellite channels.

"Al-Iraqiyah only quotes what other news agencies and channels have said. And it cannot call on any official source to confirm or deny news," says 25-year-old Sulayman, a civil servant.

"Frankly, I would rather go straight to these channels," he says.

Baghdad residents can also view three TV stations run by the two Iraqi Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

These are Kurdistan Satellite TV (KDP), KurdSat TV (PUK) and the terrestrial Al-Hurriyah (PUK).

All three broadcast in both Arabic and Kurdish.

Two new satellite channels are to start transmission to Iraq soon. They are Al-Sharqiya and Al-Diyar, run by Iraqi media tycoons Saad al-Bazzaz and Faysal al-Yasiri.

And an Egyptian consortium says it has won a licence to launch Iraq's first private nationwide terrestrial TV channel, Hawa, in June.

Baghdad residents expect these stations to open a new chapter in Iraqi broadcasting. May, a young bookshop owner, hopes such outlets will one day address Iraqi problems in a mature manner.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.




SEE ALSO:
Rebuilding Iraq's media one year on
11 Apr 04  |  Middle East


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