As many of you know, the Winds team strongly supports a charity called Spirit of America, who recently raised over $US 1.5 million to help set up locally owned media in Iraq that can compete with Al-Jazeera (known to Kurds and Shi'ites as "The Sunni News Network" for its previous support of Saddam and ongoing hostility).
This drive built on earlier efforts to acquire, organize, pack and ship over $50,000 worth of school supplies, medical kits, and toys for distribution to needy Iraqis by the 1st Marine Division (Winds Links: organizing the event, after-event success report, early results in Fallujah).
Now, we have more good news to report: media gear for 7 Iraqi owned and operated TV stations has arrived at Camp Blue Diamond – the Marines Division Headquarters in Ar Ramadi, Iraq.
USMC Lt. Col. John Lutkenhouse reports on their plans:
"Keeping in mind the required combat assets to get around our AO, as it looks right now we should able to hit all of the stations within the next 2-3 weeks. In conjunction with this, we will continue to engage the media leadership in Al Anbar (station managers, etc) in order to build relationships that will foster trust and cooperation. In fact, we are even exploring mentoring programs to help these broadcasters think and operate as independent news organizations/media enterprises. Case in point, one of the things we are finding is that their reporters don't really know how to be reporters (ask questions, think critically, and dig for the truth). As you well know, one of the legacies of the former regime is the pervasive fear that effects the decisions of Iraqis in all walks of life.
As such, we are taking 'baby steps' to encourage both media professionals and local governments (town councils) to see the benefits of getting information to the public, to be seen making decisions in council, and to develop the instincts of an open society.
As Spirit of America founder Jim Hake's blog entry notes, delays or difficulties are possible. Still, if the pilot effort succeeds, this is absolutely something that could make a difference. We're looking forward to future updates.