U.S. to Go on Air in Arabic to Counter propaganda.(NATION)

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Byline: Joyce Howard Price, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

New in-depth Arab-language radio news and policy programs slated to debut in the Middle East on May 1 are an attempt by the U.S. government to recreate the way Radio Free Europe countered Soviet propaganda during the Cold War.

Programs such as "Behind the News" and "View from Washington," which will be broadcast on the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors' new Middle East Radio Network (MERN), which went on the air last month, will provide Palestinians and other Arab listeners with something they rarely receive: accurate, unbiased information about U.S. actions and policies.

"In a week, we'll begin broadcasting policy programs, editorials, questions of the day and reviews and critiques of Arab press reports. We'll try to pinpoint - and refute - misinformation in the state-controlled media," Norman J. Pattiz, chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors' (BBG) Middle East Committee and the driving force behind MERN, yesterday told a panel of the House Appropriations Committee.

"Accurate, fair, objective news will be the lifeblood of MERN," which is known as Radio Sawa in the Mideast region, "and, we hope, will do much to combat hate media and misinformation," Mr. Pattiz told the House subcommittee on commerce, justice and state. He noted that Sawa means "together" in Arabic.

The network has expanded rapidly. When it first went on the air March 22 it had a music-only format: one that mixed American and Arabic music. "We now have regular newscasts and international headlines on a 24-hour cycle," Mr. Pattiz said.

"We carried President Bush's April 4, 2002, speech on the Middle East, translated into Arabic, giving listeners across the region a chance to hear the full text. During Secretary of State Colin Powell's trip to the Middle East, we were able to put his words on the air within minutes. Such immediacy was rarely possible in the past," he said.

The BBG oversees all non-military U.S. international broadcasting: Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia and Radio/TV Marti, which broadcasts in Cuba.

The federal government spent $35 million in this fiscal year to put Radio Sawa on the air. …