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Equipped with new satellite equipment, NewTV, Newton's local access cable news station, is considering whether to run two new programs, including an hour-long show that compiles unedited newscasts from several Middle Eastern countries, some of which have state-controlled media.
Broadcast over World Link TV satellite, "Mosaics: World News from the Middle East," presents news broadcasts from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestinian National Authority, Syria, Yemen and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, all translated into English. "Democracy Now!" the other show under consideration, is an independent news show run out of New York City and hosted by journalists Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez.
Both programs are only available to stations with satellite technology, and NewTV recently acquired a satellite through a donation supported by Free Speech TV, a non-profit satellite TV channel and "Democracy Now!"
According to Paul Berg, executive director of NewTV, showing these programs will require the station's Board of Directors to pass a new policy, because under current rules NewTV can only broadcast shows that are either produced by Newton citizens, city government programming, staff-produced editorial programming or programs that Newton citizens brought in from elsewhere. All programming, however, must reflect the views and interests of people in Newton. Though the request for each program came from two different Newton citizens, using the satellite technology creates a complication that the station is itself bringing in programming from other places, not a citizen.
The NewTV Board of Directors will vote at its next meeting in January whether to adopt a new policy that allows them to do this. The policy will mandate that new programming must be reviewed by the board before broadcast and can be pulled if it is found not to meet the interests of citizens. Arthur Obermayer, head of the Obermayer Foundation, which currently funds and supports organizations working on Jewish culture in Germany, requested that NewTV look into running "Mosaics" early this spring.
He said the request came after seeing how the American media presented the war in Iraq. "My major concerns were with the quality of network news broadcasts in the U.S. They all dealt with information that was fed to them by our government and didn't really present a broader perspective," he said, adding that the chance for Americans to see this type programming was rare. "If Americans could see what was in the foreign media, they would have a broader perspective on what lurked behind what we did in Iraq," he said.
But Lower Falls resident Brenda Loew said that although she's a long-time advocate of First Amendment rights, the show is likely to spark controversy in Newton. "Some of the broadcasts are pure, uncensored programming coming from the Middle East, which could be seen by some as akin to treason," she said, saying if people want to see them, they could download them at home. "It's broadcasting propaganda from the enemy ... we are at war. Soldiers are dying ... can you imagine piping Tokyo Rose's broadcasts or Adolph Hitler's speeches into Newton homes during WWII?"
Berg said that if the station decided to run "Mosaics," it would probably air once a week after 10 p.m. with a disclaimer that some of the programming may be state controlled, which he says they also announce during the program, and with a disclaimer warning there may be violent images of warfare.
"Unless you've seen the program, you can't say too much about it," he said. "You can accuse foreign countries of creating a newscast which 'looks' objective ... but you could also lodge the same complaint against Dan Rather."
Obermayer said that citizens should decide for themselves. "I like to think that I am discriminating enough to know what to take at face value and what not to, but at least I can see how things are in other countries and not just what the American media feeds me," he said.