Arab states look to channel their side

Foreign satcast seeks to 'rectify the image of Islam that has been damaged'

WASHINGTON — Hoping to dispel anti-Arab sentiment in the West, six Persian Gulf states on Wednesday proposed launching a new English-language satellite TV channel that would tune in Americans to the fact that not all Muslims support terrorism.

Information ministers for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a political and economic alliance repping Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, gathered for an all-day meeting in Manama, Bahrain to discuss a post-Sept. 11 media strategy.

Emerging from the session, GCC assistant secretary general Hamad Ali al-Sulayti criticized U.S. newsies and other Western media outlets for furthering the propaganda that the Middle East is rampant with instigators of terrorism.

In developing a media strategy for their countries, the council said in a statement it would urge press outlets in their respective countries to “rectify the image of Islam that has been damaged by some (foreign) media institutions.”

At the same time, the council proposed setting up the English-speaking satellite channel.

War of words

The meeting of the Persian Gulf states underscored the growing attention being paid to the propaganda battle — especially by the United States as it continues its attack on Afghanistan.

In the last two weeks, top White House officials have appeared on the Arab-language satellite news channel Al-Jazeera TV hoping to appeal directly to citizens in the Middle East.

The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera is awaiting word whether President Bush will sit down for an interview. Also, the State Dept. is considering buying ad time on the channel to promote America’s position in the Middle East.

Al-Jazeera has shot to stardom in the West as it’s the only news org directly on hand to record the damage being done by U.S. bombing raids in Afghanistan. CNN and ABC have worked out deals to use the channel’s footage as the Pentagon has imposed a virtual blackout on press coverage.

The Bush administration has been criticized at home and abroad for putting pressure on American TV news channels to forgo airing live statements by Osama bin Laden or members of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network.

CNN broke from the pack somewhat last week, announcing it would submit questions to bin Laden, to be answered during an interview with Al-Jazeera.

(Variety’s wire services contributed to this report.)

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