"In the Middle East, you have people who don't care what the United States has to say," says Norman Pattiz. "They don't like our policies. They believe they know our policies, which have been introduced to them in an environment that is hardly friendly to the United States.
Pattiz, founder and chairman of Westwood One, America's largest radio network company, serves on the Broadcasting Board of Governors of the United States, which oversees all U.S. non-military international broadcasting, including Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Radio Free Asia.
"We need our own pipeline into the region. We need to control our own distribution so that we are the masters of our own fate. Because who's going to play our message if not us? he asks.
Patiz’s answer to that question is Radio Sawa, an Arabic-language station, which offers young people throughout the Arab world a blend of news and popular music from both the Middle East and the West. “Sawa" is the Arabic word for "together."
The station broadcasts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Working with moderate Arab governments, Patiz gained access to FM radio frequencies within a number of key countries and cities. The Arabic-language station offers a blend of news and popular music from both the Middle East and the West. The target audience is listeners 25 years of age and younger, who represent nearly 65 percent of the region's population.
Patiz predicted that the music-driven format of Radio Sawa “could attract the largest possible audience to what was also our public diplomacy mission. The greatest message in the world doesn't mean a lot if no one is listening. To be effective, radio needs to connect with its listeners.�?
Radio Sawa seems to be doing just that. A recent 500-person, eight-week survey in Jordan found that 89 percent of those polled had listened to Sawa the day before. Also, 35 percent said they listened to Radio Sawa for news, compared with only 5 percent for the BBC. Indeed, by some accounts, Sawa has become more popular than even the radio station operated by Saddam Hussein's son, an FM station that previously had been the most popular in Iraq.
An overwhelming majority of Arabs say television is their first and main source of news, according to Patiz. He claims there's a media war being waged in the Arab world, and the United States is not even on the playing field. The weapons include hate radio and television, incitement to violence, disinformation, government censorship, and journalistic self-censorship.
"We need to have a place where people can go to learn about U.S. policies, what U.S. culture is about, and who we are - from our own lips. Right now, people in the Middle East do not have a place to get that information. And they're not going to have a place to get that information unless we create it."
Patiz is spearheading an effort to create a new noncommercial television news network targeted to the Middle East. The proposed network would look and sound much like CNN, except the United States government would own and operate it. The project's name is the Middle East Television Network, or simply MTN. It is being designed to beam the "message of America" into the homes of 170 million Arabic-speaking viewers.
Norman Patiz is no stranger to such pioneering efforts. He started a small radio syndication company in 1976 in a one room office on the westside of Los Angeles. Today, over twenty-five years later, that company is Westwood One, America’s largest radio network organization, and a major supplier of traffic, news and sports programming to local TV stations. Westwood One owns, manages or distributes the NBC Radio Network, the CBS Radio Network, CNN Radio, Fox Radio News and is the nation’s largest producer of news, sports, talk and entertainment programming.
In May of 2000, he was appointed by President Clinton to the United States Broadcasting Board of Governors, and reappointed by President Bush in September of 2002. The BBG oversees all U.S. non-military international broadcasting. He serves on the executive committee, is chairman of the Middle East committee and is co-chair of the language review committee. The services reporting to the USBBG provide programming in over sixty languages to over one hundred million people outside the United States, promoting freedom and democracy through the free flow of accurate and uncensored news and information.
Patiz has been the recipient of numerous professional and leadership awards including, an honorary doctorate in Fine Arts from Southern Illinois University, the Distinguished Education Service Award from the Broadcast Education Association, the Freedom of Speech Award from NARTSH, Radio Business Report’s “Executive of the Year,�? The Gallagher Report’s “Radio Industry Executive of the Year,�? and Executive Magazine’s “Executive of the Year.�? He has also been honored by the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles and the Israel Policy Forum.
Patiz received an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from Southern Illinois University in recognition of his contribution to broadcast education. He serves on the Board of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California, the Communications Board of UCLA and the Dean's Advisory Board of the California State University, Fullerton.
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