US considers launching Arabic TV channel
Envoy reveals plans at Press Club

Cilina Nasser
Daily Star staff

Private American organizations and the US government are considering launching Arabic-language satellite channels as part of efforts to improve the US image in the Arab world.

Senior US envoy Christopher Ross said here Friday that a private initiative to launch a satellite channel in Arabic, called Al-Haqiqa - Arabic for “The Truth” — was “an effort to address a perceived need to add an American dimension to the Arabic-language satellite programming that now exists.”

Ross, along with Richard Murphy, the former assistant secretary of state for Near East and South Asian affairs, was speaking during an open discussion on the US image in the Arab world at the Azarieh headquarters of the Beirut Press Club.

“Al-Haqiqa,” Ross said, “has decided, in the first instance, to try and help create some programming from the United States that would be of interest to the existing Arabic-language satellite stations … That’s where they are putting their first efforts, ” he said.

“I am not aware that (former) President (George) Bush Senior is behind this (initiative),” Ross said in response to a question that suggested US President George W. Bush has failed in his public diplomacy and that his father came to his rescue with a group of advisers from previous administrations to set up the satellite channel.

The US administration is also studying the possibility of establishing a satellite channel with Arabs as its target audience, according to Ross, who is a senior adviser to the undersecretary of state for public affairs and a special coordinator for public diplomacy.

“There is also within the administration consideration being given to a publicly financed, government-operated 24-hour, seven-days-a-week Arabic-language satellite station in the name of the US government, ” said Ross.

But Ross said the effort was moving slowly. “This would be a very costly initiative and it requires a lot of research to see whether there is a place for such a channel, given the fact that there are dozens of Arabic-language channels already in existence, ” he said.

Such efforts to reach out to Arab audiences “sprung out of the awareness that in today’s communications’ world, television is the primary medium. ”

During the roundtable discussions that attracted a number of Lebanese politicians and journalists, the head of Lebanon’s Audiovisual Media Council, Abdel-Hadi Mahfouz, asked why the United States had adopted a policy of double standards in the region.

“Does America have a double standard?” Murphy asked in return. “Well, let me say simply that America has a bias toward Israel,” he said, answering his own question. “That’s just the story and it’s foolish to be here today looking and talking with you and not start by acknowledging that bias. ”

However, Murphy, who is currently a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, spoke positively of the “road map” for peace in the region developed by the “Quartet” that includes the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

“You’re not seeing a document reflecting the desires of the Israeli government or the ambitions of at least some in the Israeli government,” he said.

The plan calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005.

Murphy, a former ambassador to Syria and Saudi Arabia, said there had been a shift in US policy toward the Middle East peace process, adding that the plan’s implementation would “require a great deal of energy by all parties in a partnership that America was not willing to grant in years past. ”

“The Arab-Israeli peace process was an American peace process and we regarded the Europeans and others as meddlers who would only confuse the picture, ” he said.

Criticism over the US tendency to impose its will rather than that of the Security Council regarding Iraq was refuted by the two former ambassadors.

“To say that we have no respect for the Security Council,” Murphy said, “flies in the face of facts that ... the president went back ... and negotiated for almost two months to get to the resolution, which was not as exactly as we had wanted, because it was not exactly what France and other countries like China had wanted. ”

Murphy was referring to UN Resolution 1441, which was adopted unanimously in November last year, giving Iraq, in the words of the resolution, “a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations. ”

“The principal effort underway today is to keep pressure on Saddam Hussein to implement the relevant UN resolutions, ” Ross said.

“There’s a long way to go in the inspection process,” he added. “No decision has been taken to move to military action … it remains a possibility if Saddam Hussein does not implement the UN resolutions.”

Source: The Daily Star - Jan. 11, 2003 | © The Daily Star

More clippings:

All media clippings © their respective authors/publishers.