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New U.S. Channel Airs on Arab TV

February 15, 2004|From Associated Press

BEIRUT — A U.S. government-financed satellite television station aimed at Arab viewers made its debut broadcast Saturday, airing an interview with President Bush in which he praised Iraqi determination to achieve democracy.

Al Hurra, or the Free One, began broadcasting at 11 a.m. with footage showing windows being opened, symbolizing freedom.

Some people said the station would not be able to improve America's image unless Washington changed its policies, which many Arabs regard as biased toward Israel and against Palestinians.

"We Arabs know America very well, and we know its Middle East policy very well," said Sateh Noureddine, the managing editor of the Lebanese newspaper As Safir, who did not see Al Hurra's broadcast. "We don't need a new television station to acquaint us with the American policy."

The station's first item was a news briefing that began with Saturday's guerrilla attack on an Iraqi police station west of Baghdad in which about two dozen people were killed.

It then broadcast a few excerpts of Bush's recorded interview in which he said he was optimistic about the future of Iraq.

"We have not been in Iraq for one year and already there has been enormous progress. Among the things I find important is that people have started to talk about achieving democracy," he said.

With Al Hurra, U.S. officials have said they hope to counter what Bush has called "hateful propaganda that fills the airwaves in the Muslim world."

Syrian political analyst Imad Fawzi Shueibi, who watched the first broadcast, said Al Hurra could be a good thing if it helped further dialogue between Arabs and America.

But George Jabbour, a Syrian lawmaker, predicted a widespread boycott of the station, saying its launch "carries a lot of arrogance."

Al Hurra is broadcast from the Washington area but has facilities in several capitals, including Baghdad. With a largely Arab staff, it initially will broadcast 14 hours a day, building up to 24-hour programming within a month. The station, which will cost about $62 million in its first year, promises a balanced approach.

Al Hurra is the latest U.S. government project aimed at reaching out to Arabs. Others include the Arabic-language Radio Sawa, and a slick Arabic-English magazine, Hi, which avoids politics but aims to inform the Arab world about American culture.

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