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[casi] Rendon Group finalist for Iraqi Media Network?


The Rendon Group (TRG) is a well-connected American public relations firm that's
received over $100 million over the past decade to provoke instability within
Iraq, and to prepare the American public for war.  TRG was instrumental in
establishing the Iraqi National Congress, in advancing Ahmed Chalabi, and in
downplaying the effect of sanctions in Western media.

It's now reported that TRG is among the finalists for a $100M contract to
rebuild and extend the Iraqi Media Network (IMN).

Following are:
[1] Village Voice (NY) status report that lists TRG among the IMN finalists
[2] Washington Post report on Sen. Richard Lugar and the political controversy
around IMN.  Will it be a mouthpiece, or independent?  WIll it be run by the
Pentagon or Foggy Bottom?

Additional links:

-- DoD procurement page for the IMN
... Includes the RFP, post-Ramadan TV schedule, and pix possibly from the
vendor's conference earlier this month.

For TRG's history, esp. as related to sanctions and Chalabi, see:
-- The Best War Money Can Buy: John Rendon and Iraq
-- Chalabi expects to head provisional government

-- Radio Netherlands site tracking IMN

-- CPA's page for IMN

Note that during the run-up to the Iraq war, TRG 'went dark' and dropped their
web presence for several months (unprecedented for a PR firm).  Rendon's site
has reappeared, though in sanitized form (  Ah for the
heady days when they posted John Rendon's fatuous Air Force Academy speech (of
which I may yet have a copy).

To re-visit TRG's spin re: sanctions [from "Out of the Ashes", Andrew Cockburn &
Patrick Cockburn, HarperCollins, 1999]:
"Sanctions were at the center of U.S. policy as it had evolved in the first few
months after the war. It was, therefore, imperative to maintain international
support for what casual readers of the Harvard team's findings and other reports
might conclude was an indefensibly cruel policy. That was where the CIA
operation, as deployed through Rendon's public relations exercise in Europe and
elsewhere, came in useful. 'Every two months or so there would be a report about
starving Iraqi babies,' explains one veteran of Rendon's propaganda campaign.
'We'd be on hand to counter that. The photo exhibition of atrocities and the
video that we had went around two dozen countries. It was all part of a
concerted campaign to maintain pressure for sanctions'" (p 56).

Drew Hamre
Golden Valley, MN USA


Press Clips
by Cynthia Cotts
U.S. 'News'
Is Anyone Watching the Iraqi Media Network?
November 12 - 18, 2003

Last week Jessica Lynch, the daily bloodshed in Iraq, and George Bush's odes to
freedom all but drowned out an important debate: how to create a free press in
Iraq. After all, the First Amendment is one of our bedrock principles and
without an informed citizenry, any pretense of democracy in the Mideast will
fail. But so far, it seems the Pentagon has decided to spend the Iraqis' media
budget on one very polished, tightly controlled center for "public diplomacy,"
rather than on a diverse chain of independent news centers. Critics say that's
no way to introduce the value of free speech.

In October, the Pentagon began soliciting bids for a $100 million renewable
contract to run the Iraqi Media Network (IMN). The project is overseen by the
U.S. military occupation (a/k/a Coalition Provisional Authority, or CPA) and is
rising out of the infrastructure of Saddam Hussein's state-run news network. The
dream is for IMN to become a "world-class" media operation, including a 24-7
satellite channel, two land-based TV channels, two radio channels, a national
newspaper, and TV and film studios in every major region of Iraq. To top it off,
this producers' utopia is expected to provide "comprehensive, accurate, fair,
and balanced news," instill a "code of ethics" in Iraqi journalists, and line up
its own funding by the end of 2004.

Skeptics doubt IMN will be self-supporting in a year, given the highly
competitive market for satellite TV in the Mideast, let alone the daunting
security issues. But the Pentagon's call for bids is sanguine, suggesting as
possible revenue sources "advertising sales, sponsorships, grants, international
consortia, subscriptions, and foundations," provided that none of the above
tarnish the network's objectivity. For now, IMN's $100 million budget, which is
part of the $87.5 billion appropriation signed into law last week, comes from
Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, a division of the Defense
Department that handles psy-ops.

And that's only one crack in the network's credibility. Critics say the
network's mission is weakened by its contradictory goals. So far IMN is touted
as both the voice of an occupying military force and an inspiration for Iraqis
to produce fair and balanced news coverage. But many Iraqis have already dubbed
the network a propaganda organ. (As if to underscore that impression, IMN
recently ran a speech by CPA administrator Paul Bremer in which he spoke
repeatedly of Hussein as "the evil one.") A recent poll found that 35 percent of
Iraqis now have satellite receivers, and of those, 67 percent prefer to get TV
news from the satellite channels Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera, rather than from
IMN. (In recent weeks, The Washington Post has followed this story closely.)

It seems that Iraqi citizens associate a centralized media network with the
Hussein regime, under which dissenting journalists were often imprisoned or
killed. According to a source who was recently in Iraq, Iraqis had looked
forward to getting fair and balanced news from the U.S., but now view the
network with "the same distrustful eye they regarded it with during the Hussein
era—same TV, different autocratic rulers."

IMN's propagandistic tone has also alienated some potential government
contractors—the community of NGOs with experience setting up independent media
centers in places like Bosnia, Afghanistan, and East Timor. These groups are
used to contracting with the State Department and the U.S. Agency for
International Development. But, one source explained, some NGOs now see IMN as
"too close to the U.S. government and too akin to public diplomacy, rather than
independent media." Some NGOs have not decided if they will bid for the IMN
contract; others have dropped out altogether. Two D.C.-based media development
groups, Internews and IREX, declined to comment.

This marks the first time the Pentagon has solicited bids to run the Iraqi TV
network. The first two contracts, for 2003, went to Science Applications
International Corp, a major Defense Department contractor. SAIC has no
experience in media development, but the company is known for its work with the
Special Forces and was tapped to run security operations for the 2004 Olympics.
(One SAIC project includes building a command center in Athens where police can
monitor thousands of surveillance cameras, which might count as broadcast

With bids due at the end of November, a handful of interested parties turned up
in Baghdad last week for a tour of IMN facilities. Of about two dozen potential
bidders, the following are among those said to be still in play: the BBC,
through its World Service Trust; the British TV channel ITN; the Rendon Group,
which has helped the U.S. with previous "public diplomacy" efforts; the Harris
Group; and the Lebanese Broadcasting Company. Two sources speculate that the
Pentagon is likely to stick with SAIC.

Senator Richard Lugar, who is chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
(SFRC), is developing a plan that would shift responsibility for the IMN to the
State Department in hopes of making the project more attractive to NGOs. "To
have Iraq be a democratically run country requires various institutions that
make democracy work," said SFRC senior staffer Mark Helmke. "A free, fair media
is essential to the process. That's something we know how to do, and that we're
not using groups that have done this before is counterproductive."

Aside from the technical and security issues, other challenges for Iraqi media
moguls include programming, staffing, and censorship. Last June, Bremer issued
an order prohibiting Iraqis from publishing or broadcasting anything that could
be construed as an "incitement to violence," and in recent weeks, the CPA has
restricted news coverage of hospitals, morgues, and hotel bombings. Rather than
producing original content, IMN has broadcast endless CPA press conferences and
old programming from the Mid-East Broadcast Corporation. Just before Ramadan,
the IMN feed went up on satellite. But with dozens of local newspapers and
competing satellite channels, it's unclear what the IMN will offer that Iraqis
can't get elsewhere—or if future IMN news anchors will sound more like Ted
Koppel or Baghdad Bob.

In the past six months, IMN has seen professional journalists come and go. The
original news director, Arab expat Ahmad Al Rikabi, resigned in August, citing
poor funding and a lack of editorial independence. His successor, George
Mansour, is said to have been removed last week. The current news director is a
former CNN executive editor, Ted Iliff.

Numerous attempts to obtain comment from the Pentagon, beginning days before
this article went to press, were ignored by media handlers in the U.S. and Iraq.
Gary Thatcher, a former journalist who is now the spokesman for the CPA and
responsible for development of the IMN, did not respond to messages left with
two colleagues or to a detailed e-mail. So much for a free and open debate.

Army's Iraq Media Plan Criticized
Lugar Wants to Transfer Project's Funds to State Department

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 16, 2003; Page A23

Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) wants the Senate to block the U.S. Army's $100
million plan to expand Iraq's fledgling radio and television network and create
a major national newspaper out of the small publication now printed in Baghdad,
according to congressional sources.

Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would like to
transfer the project's funds, now buried in the Pentagon's $67 billion portion
of the Iraq supplemental appropriation bill, to the State Department, the
sources said.

He has an amendment to the bill, now being debated on the Senate floor, that if
passed would require President Bush to justify why money for the Iraq Media
Network is going to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and not to the State
Department, the Agency for International Development or the Broadcasting Board
of Governors, three agencies familiar with foreign media projects.

Lugar has described the Iraq Media Network as "the most important public
diplomacy issue now underway," senior aide Mark Helmke said. The network is also
considered the most ambitious and costly foreign media program ever undertaken
by the U.S. government.

Lugar has warned State Department officials that questions about the network
will be among the first asked of Margaret Tutwiler when she appears at her
confirmation hearing as Bush's nominee to be undersecretary of state for public

Tutwiler played an advisory role last summer when the Iraqi network was getting
started. At that time, she briefly left her post as U.S. ambassador to Morocco
to serve as media adviser to retired Lt. Gen. Jay M. Garner, the predecessor to
L. Paul Bremer, administrator of the authority.

Under a solicitation for bids Friday, the Army, operating on behalf of the
Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), is seeking a private contractor to expand
"to a significantly higher level of overall quality, reach and share" the
existing Iraqi nationwide radio and television system and CPA's small national
newspaper and turn them into a "world class" organization. Soon to be renamed
the Al-Iraqiya Network, the new network is to have two land-based television
channels, one of which would be all news, and two radio stations, one all news.
Its television news and public affairs material would also be made available
throughout the Middle East by satellite.

According to the solicitation proposal, the proposed private contractor would
have as "objectives" the creation of "quality" radio and television programming
for the stations, television and film production facilities in "each major
region of Iraq" and training of an indigenous Iraqi workforce that would take
over independent operation of the network within two years.

One additional objective for the bidder, the proposal said, would be to show
that the resultant Iraqi Media Network leads "all mass media in providing
comprehensive, accurate, fair and balanced news and public affairs to the Iraqi

In other situations, such as those in Kosovo, Serbia and other former Warsaw
Pact countries, the State Department enlisted non-government organizations or
AID to put money into indigenous media projects and journalist training programs.

At the same time that the Army is expanding the Iraq Media Network, the
Broadcasting Board of Governors, which supervises Voice of America and
introduced into that area of the world the Arab-language Radio Sawa, is
preparing to launch its Middle East TV Network. With $30 million to begin, the
new network will compete 24 hours a day with al-Jazeera and al-Arabyia, the two
Arab-language satellite channels that regularly criticize the U.S. effort in

CPA officials have not responded to Washington Post inquiries about the program.
Bremer aide Dan Senor told ABC's "Nightline" last month that the Iraq Media
Network is "our only voice in a sea of hundreds of other voices. We don't,
unlike Saddam [Hussein], we don't shut down all the other voices and allow only
ours to penetrate. Ours is one of many."

The original contract, for more than $30 million, to rebuild the Iraqi
government system was given to San Diego-based Scientific Applications
International Corp. (SAIC), a Pentagon contractor best known for its Special
Forces gear and programs. The firm has supervised setting up the transmission
infrastructure destroyed during the war and hired foreign consultants and Iraqi

But there has been turnover in leadership as SAIC's first choice, Robert Reilly,
a former VOA director, took over last January but left in June, when Bremer
officially said the network would replace the Iraqi Ministry of Information.
Although about 5,000 ministry employees who formerly turned out Hussein
propaganda were fired, an additional 1,000 remain on the government payroll and
will be a problem for the new contractor.

"They can't decide whether it is a mouthpiece for the authority or independent
media," said a U.S. communications expert who has been brought in as a project
consultant. Meanwhile, 23 U.S. bidders have responded and will participate in a
conference in Baghdad the first week in November.

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