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U.S. wants its MTV to get message out in Arab world

The architects of the government’s post-Sept. 11 propaganda war may well want their MTV on the frontlines in the Arab world.

Rushing to shift perceptions of the United States in the Islamic world, Washington and Hollywood are now brainstorming about how the entertainment business might help convey a wider – and more positive – range of perceptions about America. And no demo is more crucial to the future of Islamic-Western relations than the 15-30 age group. That’s where MTV comes in.

The potential to intersperse messages between programming segments – as with the “Rock the Vote” campaign, for example – makes the music cable channel an obvious vehicle. And a top priority for MTV is to give young people a way to express their views via local MTV channels around the world, whether through man-on-the street interviews or interactive shows. Such efforts were under way before the attacks, but the events of Sept. 11 brought a new sense of urgency.

MTV already has held a videoconference with its worldwide staff to discuss what initiatives it may take. Recently, itlaunched a global pen-pal service, encouraging a discussion of world events. One idea now being considered is to include programming that would specifically encourage dialogue between MTV viewers in U.S. and those in Middle Eastern and other predominately Muslim markets.

MTV Intl. is available in parts of the Mideast via the Showtime platform, but distribution in that region is still complicated, and there is intermittent censorship. The cable network believes there is great room for expansion, considering that just under half of the 25 million Mideast TV households have access to satellite.

MTV has made significant inroads in India and Asia, with MTV India recently voted the most popular music channel in Pakistan.

While MTV has been able to build strong, local outlets in Asia and India, it’s had a tougher time in the Mideast. It does air one show in Arabic, “Mashaweer,” in which local VJs present a mix of Arabic, southern Euro and Latin-oriented music. There are discussions about more local shows and the development of a 24-hour channel in Arabic.

Also, the music network likes the notion of an exchange program, whereby staff members in one part of the word get the chance to meet up with their counterparts in studios elsewhere.

What such efforts on the part of MTV and other U.S. outlets abroad will cost is still anyone’s guess. But signs are that, spurred by Washington, money will be spent.

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