Congress is so suspicious of an official government broadcast network being subverted for political and propaganda purposes that it refuses to allow Voice of America radio and TV to broadcast to the United States.
So Congress might want to start asking some hard, skeptical questions about the Bush administration’s plans to start a 24-hour satellite TV channel in Baghdad to broadcast government-approved stories back to the U.S. so Americans will get the "real" story on Iraq.
The Bush administration believes independent TV networks concentrate too much on the escalating attacks on American soldiers, riots, demonstrations and the so far fruitless hunt for Saddam Hussein instead of the successes of the occupation. The head of the project was a Bush media adviser during the Florida recount.
Plans call for the satellite channel to offer directly to local TV stations in the United States coverage of official briefings, speeches, military ceremonies and the comings and goings of assorted VIPs. The local stations will be offered interviews with officials of interest in their areas.
First, the U.S. government — and not just this administration — should not be in the domestic news business, television or print. No matter how well this channel is run it will always be seen for what it is — official, even partisan — propaganda. The fact that the administration wants to get the broadcasts into the hands of pro-Bush conservatives certainly seems to support that.
Second, this whole operation rests on a patronizing premise — that local TV news operations are too diffident and too ill-informed to ask the same hard questions as the network reporters. We think the administration will be surprised on that score.
Third, it won’t work. As long as Americans are being killed on a daily basis in Iraq, there will be no viewer or reader market for "good news" or "success" stories out of Iraq. Once our soldiers are safe and the independent media have no more stories of helicopter downings, rocket attacks or car bombs, then you might be able to drum up a little interest in the official ribbon cutting at Baghdad’s new U.S.-funded sewage plant.
Here’s how the Bush administration will know it has a success in Iraq: When the independent TV networks and newspapers pay as much attention to peacekeeping operations in Iraq as they now do to the successful U.S. peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Kosovo.