Tomlinson Pans Paying for Pro-Military Stories


There's one public official well-versed both in criticisms of influencing coverage and the challenges of bringing news to the Arab world who is not happy with the L.A. Times report that the U.S. military has been paying Iraqi news outlets to carry pro-American stories.

He's not too happy about the journalists who took the money, either.

That official is Ken Tomlinson, former chairman of the CPB board and current president of the Board for International Broadcasting, which oversees all of the U.S.'s non-military broadcasting, including Voice of America.

Telling B&C he agreed with the criticism that such payments undercut U.S. efforts to help Iraq build a free press, he also said that, "as a news professional, can you imagine anything lower than a newsperson who takes bribes? Talk about building a free and honest press."

Tomlinson said that debates "involving people who also don't agree with us on freedom and rights are vital to what we are doing at Alhurra."

Alhurra ("The Free One" in Arabic) is the U.S.'s  Arabic-language satellite-television network that launched in February 2004.

The service has come under recent scrutiny and some Hill criticism for single-source contracting, among other things, but it is also part of an overall Middle East broadcasting initiative that got a B grade from former 9/11 commissioners last week.

The 9/11 follow-up report pointed to growing budgets and audience shares but added that "we need to move beyond audience size [and] expose listeners to new ideas and accurate information about the U.S. and its policies, and measure the impact and influence of these ideas."

When Alhurra was launched, Tomlinson said, "Our competitive edge in the Middle East is our very dedication to truth, and free and open debate. And we will stand out like a beacon of light in a media market dominated by sensationalism and distortion."