Iraqi TV boss plans to launch news channel
Friday, August 24th, 2007

Habib al-Sadr, director general of Iraq’s state-funded television channel Al-Iraqiya, has bold plans to expand his burgeoning network - if he can survive the constant threats to his life. All is in place for the launch mid-September at the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan of a new channel of readings from the Koran, an adjunct to the three existing Al-Iraqiya national channels, Sadr told AFP.

Initially broadcasting for just six hours a day, Al-Furkan channel will eventually grow into a 24-hour national religious channel, Sadr said in his plush office on the banks of the Tigris river in Baghdad’s Karkh district. ”Then next year we’ll be launching a 24-hour news channel, which will be a first for Iraq,” says the balding, thick-set 55-year-old television executive, who admits that Al-Iraqiya is not as independent as he would like it to be.

“Yes, we are always under pressure from political and religious groups, but we are doing our best to resist this,” says Sadr. Himself a Shiite, Sadr has been accused of allowing the Shiite-led government - which foots his Iraqi Media Network’s annual $50 million bill - to use its television and radio channels to spread its own political message.

“We are an independent company and are doing our best to deflect the pressure but we haven’t yet fully succeeded,” Sadr acknowledges, deflecting criticism that Al-Iraqiya promotes Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government. ”My main ambition is to establish free and independent media in Iraq. If I can achieve this it will be a first in the Arab world,” says Sadr. ”We already have 90 newsroom journalists plus 60 political reporters and much of the equipment we need for the news channel,” he says. “We need to spend a little more on equipment and then all will be in place.”

Since the US-led invasion in 2003 toppled Saddam, the number of television channels legally available has mushroomed and rooftops across Iraq now bristle with satellite dishes. With foreign channels such as Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya, Lebanon’s LBC, the BBC and CNN now readily available to anyone with a satellite dish, Sadr believes it’s time for the Iraqis to launch their own 24-hour news channel.

Though he has launched two national plus seven regional television channels, 11 radio stations and six newspapers since he took over as head of the Iraqi Media Network in 2005, Sadr sees the news channel as his pet project. ”We are taking our time to make sure it is done properly. We want to achieve something unique in Iraq,” he says, while declining to give a launch date.

(Source: AFP)