East Valley residents driving to work this week may have heard an unusual radio ad that begins with a man speaking in Arabic, followed by an English voice-over:
"The war on terrorism targets an enemy who hides behind many flags, including my own. These faceless cowards may speak my language; they do not speak for me. Saudi Arabia has clearly denounced terrorism at every turn."
The 60-second advertisement goes on to describe Saudi efforts to crack down on terrorists and those who incite the public to violence. It ends with the credit line, "A message from the people of Saudi Arabia. Allies against terrorism."
The national ad campaign, which hit the Valley on Wednesday on at least two local radio stations, is sponsored by the Saudi government. Its goal is to let the American people know Saudi Arabia does not support terrorism, said Nail Al-Jubeir, spokesman for the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C.
"We're just telling our side of the story of what's happening in Saudi Arabia," Al-Jubeir said, adding that most American media reports about the Muslim country since Sept. 11, 2001, have been negative.
Of the 19 suspected hijackers who crashed planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, 15 were Saudi nationals. The country launched a multimillion-dollar media blitz in April 2002 in an attempt to control the resulting damage to the Saudi image.
Marv Nyren, vice president and general manager of KTAR (620 AM), said his station agreed to run the ads after much debate and multiple listenings.
"There are some people who will definitely find this wrong," Nyren said, adding that the station ultimately approved the ads because they were not hurtful in nature and didn't contain any obvious false statements.
Nyren said some listeners might view the ads as little more than propaganda.
"Depending on the listener, it could be or it couldn't be," Nyren said. "Content or acceptance is in the eye of the beholder."
If the ads are meant to sway public opinion in favor of Saudi Arabia, the idea probably came from a similar campaign conducted overseas by the United States, said Craig Allen, a professor of international mass media at Arizona State University.
"It's really propaganda, and the United States does it to the hilt," Allen said. "The U.S. is kind of the model for how this is done."
Allen said the U.S. State Department also uses such "public diplomacy" campaigns to influence public policy by bringing their message directly to the people.
Al-Jubeir Nair said he doesn't expect Americans to change their views about Saudi Arabia overnight, but over time he hopes his country will again be seen as a U.S. ally.
"Long-term returns is something we are looking forward to," he said.