US to put $60m into 'objective' Arab-language TV

WASHINGTON - President Bush is dedicating $60m to what some are calling America's most ambitious public diplomacy initiative in years: an Arab-language satellite TV network that will bring 'objective', US-sponsored news into homes throughout the Muslim world 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The effort, tentatively called the Middle East TV Network, will be run by the Broadcasting Board of Governor, the independent federal agency that oversees all non-military US international broadcasting, including Voice of America. Former CNN Washington bureau chief William Headline has been hired to head the network.

Bush originally requested $30m (£18.3m) for the effort in his 2004 budget, but then added $32m to an emergency supplemental appropriations bill for 2003 in hopes of getting the network up and running before the end of this year.

The BBG is currently doing market research in several Muslim countries that will determine the network's programming. A newsroom is also being set up in Washington alongside that of Radio Sawa, the hugely successful US-backed Arabic-language radio station that mixes American and Arabic pop music with US-sponsored news.

Government officials are insisting that the network's purpose is not to influence Muslims with US propaganda, but to bring independent journalism into a region more accustomed to government-controlled press.

"The network would present objective news and information in a format similar to an American cable news network," read a BBG statement.

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