WASHINGTON: The Pentagon last week awarded a $100 million contract to run the Iraq Media Network (IMN) to Harris Corp., a Florida-based communications equipment company. The move contradicted statements last month that no decision would be made until July.
The IMN represents the last vestige of Saddam Hussein's state-controlled media operation. It currently consists of two TV stations (one dedicated solely to news), two radio stations, and a newspaper.
The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) took control of the network in May 2003 following the fall of Hussein's regime. Since then, Scientific Applications International Corporations (SAIC) had been running the IMN after winning the business in an emergency no-bid contract.
Last month, Pentagon spokesmen told bidders that the winner of the current year-long contract, originally to be declared January 1, would not be announced until July in order to facilitate a new timetable for the handover of control of the country to Iraqis. No explanation for the policy change was offered.
The contract requires Harris to train IMN journalists, raise the network's standards and quality, and conduct business as an independent media operation. This last requirement, however, has touched off controversy over critics concerned that the Iraq Governing Council will either try to assume editorial control when it takes over the country this summer, or simply not honor the contract.
Already, Iraqi communications minister Haider Al Abadi has told reporters he might not honor the contract out of a concern that the Americans would try to exert control. He also claimed he was not told of the contract prior to it being awarded.
A Harris spokesman told Reuters, "We will try to serve two masters - one, the CPA and the other, the Iraqi people. We don't want to be a puppet of the CPA or an extremist network. We want to take the middle road."