WASHINGTON — Coming soon to Iraqi TV compliments of the U.S. government — virtually all the major network newscasts, unedited and with Arabic subtitles.
The White House initiated talks between news division presidents to facilitate the unprecedented feed. The conduit was U.S. Broadcasting, the parent company of the Voice of America. Only CNN declined the invitation.
The news shows participating are ABC’s “World News Tonight With Peter Jennings,” “CBS Evening News With Dan Rather,” NBC’s “Nightly News With Tom Brokaw,” PBS’ “The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer,” and Fox News’ “Special Report With Brit Hume.”
CNN said in a statement, “We didn’t think as an independent news organization, it was appropriate to participate in a U.S. government video transmission.”
Separately, the media’s race for Baghdad went into full-throttle Thursday as U.S. news nets made plans to get bureaus back into the Iraqi capital.
By today, CNN plans to have 40 staffers in its reopened Baghdad office, plus five correspondents who have been “disembedded” from U.S. military units including Walter Rodgers and Jason Bellini.
Rogers, speaking via phone from Baghdad, said it was a remarkable experience spending three weeks with the Army’s 7th Calvary.
Rather, who made the dangerous trip from Jordan into Iraq Thursday, will be the first broadcast anchor to reach Baghdad. He had expected to be in the Iraqi capital by the end of the day, but was stopped 15 minutes out of the city when his party came under fire.
In the coming days, all the broadcast nets, as well as Fox News Network, are expected to open up bureaus in Baghdad.
CNBC anchor Brian Williams, who has been stationed in Kuwait City, is making a foray into Iraq. Brokaw traveled to Jordan last weekend, hoping to get to Baghdad, but was unable to because of safety reasons.
The Bush administration is also focused on its broadcast presence in Iraq as it tries to win over the hearts and minds of the people.
Radio mogul Norman Pattiz, a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors who heads the Mideast subcommittee, said the broadcast television service he is putting together would be anchored by a two- or two-and-a-half hour newscast in Arabic, produced in Washington. He said the U.S. newscasts should run between five-and-a-half hours and six hours a day.
News networks would only supply their broadcasts on condition that they air in their entirety, without editing. They are supplying the newscasts at no cost.
The broadcasting service will be transmitted via a specially equipped U.S. Air Force plane, Commando Solo, circling Iraq. The broadcasts will go out terrestrially once damaged antennas have been repaired.
Separately, the White House announced Thursday it also is using the plane to broadcast special messages into Iraq from President Bush and U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair. The new TV service is a joint U.S.-U.K. project.
Pattiz said his project is still waiting for the White House to find emergency funding, and that as soon as the money comes in, the service should be up and running within a few days. He said the project would rely on the resources of Radio Sawa, the board of governor’s relatively new Arabic radio service.
“This all happened in the last few days. We received a request from the White House asking us what we could to put some Arabic language TV on the air,” Pattiz said. “Our mission is to be an example of a free press in the American tradition. What better way than this?”