WASHINGTON: The Pentagon is searching for an entity to take over its massive media operation in Iraq, transforming what is now perceived largely as US propaganda into the country's premiere source of, in the words of the RFP, "accurate, fair, and balanced" news coverage.
Bids on the $100 million contract were due late last month, and a decision is expected within weeks. Among the bidders are the BBC World Service Trust; The Rendon Group, a DC-based PR firm known for its work with the Pentagon; British news channel ITN; and Science Applications International Corp., which was temporarily awarded the work in a no-bid contract earlier this year.
Al-Iraqiyah TV, until recently known as Iraqi Media Network, launched in May after the Pentagon took over the remains of Saddam Hussein's state-run news. It currently includes a TV channel, two radio stations, and newspaper Al-Sabah.
The winner of the contract will expand the operation to include two 24-hour TV programs, two 24-hour radio programs, a "truly national" newspaper, and a physical presence in at least 15 of Iraq's largest cities. The contract also requires the winner to instruct all employees in "the principles and techniques" of journalism.
An October State Department study found that most Iraqis have access to IMN, and that it dominates national viewing habits. But when it comes to getting their news, most citizens appear hesitant to embrace the network, with just 36% citing IMN as their primary source. Satellite networks Al-Arabiyah and Al-Jazeera, accused by the US of harboring an anti-American bias, represent the major competition in the sector.
Meanwhile, President Bush has nominated Lawrence Di Rita as the next special assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. Di Rita has been performing the job on an acting basis since Victoria Clarke left the post in June.