(AFP) – Dec 26, 2007
FALLUJAH, Iraq (AFP) — Three years after the Iraqi city of Fallujah was practically destroyed by a US assault, residents of the notorious battleground have found a new voice through their own TV and radio programmes.
The former rebel bastion 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Baghdad now boasts a broadcast centre where dozens of employees work frantically producing material for two radio stations and a television channel.
Despite a severe shortage of money and lack of expertise, the staff say they are determined to make programmes that express "the thoughts of freedom" and that will also help to counter what they call "Al-Qaeda ideology."
Large parts of Fallujah remain in ruins after being pounded in 2004 during brutal fighting when US forces took on hardcore Sunni insurgents and Al-Qaeda fighters holed up in the city.
But like other parts of Al-Anbar province, Fallujah has in the past year seen its Sunni population turn against their former Al-Qaeda allies.
And over the past six months residents have begun tuning in to independent radio and TV programmes made in the city with the support of the state-run and US-funded Iraqi Media Network.
"Our programmes are prepared by the local people of Fallujah. They are diversified and deal with issues of the locals," said Abdul Majid Dahham, station manager of Fallujah FM, which broadcasts 16 hours a day.
Another station, Fallujah Sawt al-Hur or Free Voice of Fallujah broadcasts six hours a day, while the television channel has a slot of two hours every evening before 8:00 pm, when it links up with the state-run Al-Iraqiya channel.
An estimated 400,000 people live within the 20-kilometre radius covered by Fallujah TV, but no viewing figures for the station are available.
Dahham is proud of all three stations' achievements but admits that the quality of the programming is often poor.
"The educational programmes for children and cultural events for adults need to be improved," he said.
One Fallujah resident, Um Firas, said she would even volunteer to help out at the TV station if that would help to improve its output.
"I am ready to work free of charge on these programmes in order to serve the students," she told AFP. "The educational programmes need to be made better."
Muna Abdul Salam, 20, an economics student in the University of Anbar, said he wanted "more programmes on art and sports" rather than too much politics.
Amir Lateef, a police captain, said he was a great supporter of Fallujah TV, which he hoped would encourage young viewers away from the extremist Islamist influence of Al-Qaeda elements still at work in the city.
"The station must aim to positively influence the children who are affected by violence and Al-Qaeda ideology," he said. "The station shows good programmes but more can be done especially with regard to children's culture."
He also said that the station needed to avoid showing violence and aggressive behaviour to the city's children who are already scarred mentally by what they have experienced.
Employees say that for Fallujah's fledgling TV and radio stations to survive and develop they must receive more funds from the government.
"Despite the current modest output, the stations cover the whole of Fallujah and its suburbs," said Mohammed Sami, 26, a Fallujah TV correspondent. "I hope it gets government support so the station can serve people better.
"We used to work in total secrecy in the first few weeks, avoiding risks and threats," he added. "The locals had no idea what we were doing, but now the situation is better than it was."
Free Voice of Fallujah radio has a team of 12 staff, including four women, who put together programmes for the city's residents.
"We are working to provide information to locals that is especially aimed at discouraging violence," said station director Ali Hadi.
"Our station is a local one because we understand Fallujah's problems and how they can be tackled."
The city's fledgling broadcasters still have to operate in a sensitive environment, however.
"I enjoy working, but the surrounding situation is not trouble-free," said one female radio announcer from an orthodox Muslim family who wears a headscarf at work.
And Fallujah FM's Dahham said the stations also faced political pressure from those who want to exploit them "for their own interests, and that affects our work."
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