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The Other US Invasion

March 18, 2003



For nearly a year, the US has beamed a radio program on FM and AM channels to Arabs in the Middle East. Radio Sawa, as it's called, offers mainly popular music 24 hours a day. As war on Iraq looms, it's worth seeing if this "soft diplomacy" can help reach "the Arab street" and calm anti-US reaction.

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By its own account, Radio Sawa (Arabic for "together") is reaching three-quarters of target listeners under 34 years old. The broadcast is No. 1 in Amman and reaches Kuwait City, Cairo, and - notably - Baghdad.

Effective music selections get listeners hooked, and then Sawa offers such programs as "The Free Zone," a weekly discussion of democracy and human rights in the region; or "Ask the World Now," a show in which listeners can pose questions to US policymakers. Surveys show some 40 percent of Sawa's audience view its news as "accurate and trustworthy."

The US plans a television network in Arabic to balance the popular Al Jazeera TV. Congress will need to fully fund it, however, since the US will need all the Arab friends it can find.

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