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U.S. to Reach Out to Arabs Via TV

Times Staff Writer

President Bush announced Wednesday that the U.S. government would next week begin broadcasting an Arabic-language satellite TV channel designed as an alternative to Middle Eastern broadcasts often critical of the United States.

At an appearance at the Library of Congress, Bush said the channel, Al Hurra, would join other U.S. government broadcasts that are aimed at cutting through the “hateful propaganda that fills the airwaves in the Muslim world” and telling people “the truth about the values and the policies of the United States.”

“The truth always serves the cause of freedom,” Bush said.

Al Hurra, Arabic for “the free one,” is the most expensive of a number of post-Sept. 11 efforts aimed at changing attitudes about the United States through government-supplied information. U.S. officials have acknowledged that they want the channel to be a rival of Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite channel, and Al Arabiya, based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The two Arabic channels have often drawn complaints about their programming from senior Bush administration officials.

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The broadcasts will be transmitted from a facility in Springfield, Va., and will cost the government $62 million for the first year of operation. The channel will be overseen by a Lebanese-born news director, who will be hiring a staff of more than 200, including many Arabs.

The broadcasts will include news, sports, movies and educational programming and will be aimed at the young audience that dominates in most Arab countries. The channel will broadcast 24 hours a day to match Al Jazeera.

Officials of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the agency responsible for U.S. government-sponsored international broadcasting efforts, promise that the channel will have high-quality production and editorial independence. Norman J. Pattiz, a board member and the founder of Westwood One, the largest U.S. radio network, has been active in the project.

Experts on the region have questioned whether the effort will draw enough viewers to justify the expense. Audiences in the Middle East are generally skeptical about America and have not responded well to other U.S. government efforts to improve America’s image.

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Al Jazeera officials have dismissed the competitive threat, saying that Arab listeners will not accept U.S. government broadcasts.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is among the U.S. officials who have complained about the private Arab channels.

At a briefing last year, he said that Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya were “virulently anti-coalition.”


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