Iraqis dismiss their portrayal on Arab TV By Kim Ghattas Published: July 25 2003 19:18 | Last Updated: July 25 2003 19:18
Haidar Saleh, a hotel manager, watched with satisfaction as Lt General Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of US ground forces in Iraq, appeared on his television screen detailing the operation in which Saddam Hussein's two sons died.
But the next item on the news bulletin of the al- Arabiya satellite channel showed Iraqis demonstrating in favour of Saddam Hussein in Mosul - and Mr Saleh got angry. "Why do they have to show this? These people are a small minority, they don't represent Iraqis," he said.
Since the ousting of Saddam Hussein's regime, once-forbidden satellite dishes have made it into almost every Iraqi home. Whenever the power is on, Iraqis are able to watch news from all over the world but, like Mr Saleh, many do not always like what they see.
"I watch the BBC mostly, or music channels, I don't like all these Arab channels, they are liars," said Lu'ay al Zawraki, a 22-year-old student. "They never show anything positive that is going on in Iraq, only the bad things and the messages of Saddam," he added.
Saad Jawad, a political science professor at Baghdad University, believes Arab satellite channels are doing a good job at showing all sides of a story and have good information. "But those who are happy that Saddam is gone are not ready to accept anyone who had any links with the former regime, channels who had good access or correspondents who presented the Iraqi government point of view."
But the issue at stake seems to be about more than just media coverage. Since the fall of Baghdad and the ousting of Saddam Hussein's regime, many Iraqis have expressed their disillusionment with the Arab world, saying they resent Arab leaders and their people for having sided with the regime regardless of the suffering Mr Hussein inflicted on his people. "Iraqis hated Saddam but the Arabs loved him because he stood up to the US," said Mr Saleh. "Things haven't changed and now the Arab media are perpetuating the image of Saddam as a hero and catering to Arab nationalist feelings."
Members of the Iraqi governing council have also had harsh words for the Arab media. "I say this to the Arab media: stop advising the Iraqis to fight the Americans," said Nasser al-Shadershi, the Sunni Muslim head of the Iraqi Democratic Current, during the council's inaugural session.
He was joined by Mohammed Bahr el-Ulum, a Shia cleric who fled to London in 1991. "These media are threatening us from the first day of the war until now," he said, lambasting Arab channels for glorifying the Iraqi president in the build up to the US-led war.
The US administration is also unhappy about the Arab media coverage of events in Iraq. On his return from a visit to Iraq this week, Paul Wolfowitz, US deputy defence secretary, listed the three "biggest remaining challenges" in Iraq, aside from dealing with attacks against US troops, as being restoring electrical power, reducing unemployment and the issue of the "domination of the local media by hostile sources".
Saad Silawi, regional news manager for al-Arabiya, scoffs at Mr Wolfowitz's mention of his news channel. "How dare he criticise us. Has he listened to Fox news?" he asked. "But we have to call things by their name: resistance, occupation, this is what is happening here at the moment."
Al-Arabiya received the last two audio messages from Mr Hussein, as well as a videotaped message from his Fedayeen force vowing revenge for the deaths of his sons Uday and Qusay.
Mr Silawi says his channel's priorities are credibility and information, with no intention to incite anyone to violence. "When we get a taped message from Saddam, of course we're going to broadcast it, it's news."