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Everyone, 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:  Village Voice (NY) status report that lists TRG among the IMN finalists  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 http://dccw.hqda.pentagon.mil/Iraqi_mnp.htm ... 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 http://www.casi.org.uk/discuss/2002/msg00838.html -- Chalabi expects to head provisional government http://www.casi.org.uk/discuss/2002/msg02067.html -- Radio Netherlands site tracking IMN http://www.rnw.nl/realradio/features/html/iraq030729.html -- CPA's page for IMN http://www.cpa-iraq.org/ministries/information.html 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 (http://www.rendon.com). 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). Regards, Drew Hamre Golden Valley, MN USA === http://www.villagevoice.com/print/issues/0346/cotts.php 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 experience.) 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. === http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A32057-2003Oct15?language=printer washingtonpost.com 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 diplomacy. 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 people." 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 Iraq. 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 journalists. 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. _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email firstname.lastname@example.org All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk