Saddam Is Always Front-Page News In Iraq

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By: Bassem Mroue, Associated Press Writer

(AP) In the Iraqi media, the man known elsewhere as President Bush is called “the little George Bush,” while U.S. ally Britain is referred to the wagging “tail” of the United States.

The news that the Iraqi people get in the government-controlled media is much different from that in the rest of the world, and exactly what President Saddam Hussein wants it to be.

Saddam, for example, is always front-page news. When he has done nothing the previous day, newspapers carry old photos of him and state TV airs reruns of his moments of glory, showing him before adoring crowds he rarely greets anymore.

While Iraqis can get international radio such as the Arabic service of the British Broadcasting Corp. and the new U.S. government pop music station Radio Sawa, they have little choice in newspapers and television.

International publications have been banned since the 1990-91 Gulf War, and satellite dishes are outlawed. Cable television exists, but the cost — $140 for a decoder and $5 a month — is well beyond an average Iraqi’s monthly income of $10.

There is some relief from the all-Iraqi programming. Iraqi TV stations show pirated foreign movies and the Egyptian soap operas popular throughout the Arab world.

And newspapers do carry entertainment news. One recent item was about American actress Gwyneth Paltrow ending the period of mourning for her father’s death. Another reported that Egyptian actress Leila Elwi loves spending the Muslim holy month of Ramadan with her family.

For so-called hard news, most Iraqis are at the mercy of the five daily papers — all under tight control, with one run by the ruling Baath Party and another by Saddam’s son, Odai — as well as four state-run TV channels.

On these news outlets, stories widely covered elsewhere often get little attention.

The return of U.N. arms inspectors to Iraq was big news internationally with foreign reporters, TV crews, and photographers chasing them everywhere. But Iraq’s media carried only brief Foreign Ministry announcements listing the sites they investigated.

Meanwhile, events that barely register elsewhere can be big news in Iraq. On a recent day the daily Al-Jumhuriya reported that “a demonstration took place in New Bedford to protest the American threats of military aggression against Iraq.” They story was about a march in New Bedford, Mass., attended by about 200 people.

Regular big stories include the Palestinian uprising against Israel and any misfortune befalling U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The attack that killed 16 at an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya and the firing of missiles on an Israeli charter jet there were top news for both television and newspapers.

The Baath Party newspaper Al-Thawra runs a daily cartoon, usually showing Uncle Sam in control of the United Nations or doing the bidding of Israel.

One recent cartoon showed Uncle Sam injecting himself from a syringe decorated with the Jewish Star of David — presumably getting a dose of Zionism — while British Prime Minister Tony Blair stood nearby bearing a tray with a similar syringe.

But Iraq’s most popular newspaper is Babil, the one run by Saddam’s son Odai, because it sometimes criticizes government officials and runs translations of foreign news stories.

Babil was banned for a month on Nov. 20, in a move apparently intended to show there is no favoritism toward any publication. Its sin seemed to be criticizing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Jordan’s King Abdullah II at a time when Iraq is courting Arab allies in its battle with the United States.

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