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Mideast cable show to air 5 days

Newton's public-access television station next week plans to increase its broadcast of a controversial Middle Eastern news program called ''Mosaic" to five days per week.

The program last year generated angry letters, a condemnation from the mayor, and several efforts by aldermen to keep it from airing.

''I'm sure that those who didn't like it in the first place are not going to like it in the second place," said Paul D. Berg, the executive director of NewTV. ''But we are on pretty firm legal ground."

Starting next week, the station plans to air the show Tuesday through Friday at 10 a.m. and Saturdays at 5 p.m. For the past year, NewTV has broadcast only the Tuesday show of ''Mosaic," which is produced daily.

Critics of the show say it is anti-Semitic, terrorist propaganda. Supporters say it provides a perspective on how the United States is seen by other countries.

''Mosaic" is produced by a California-based company called Link TV, which says the show is available in 20 million homes nationwide with satellite hookups. The show's producers -- David Michaelis, an Israeli Jew, and Jamal Dajani, a Palestinian American -- monitor 30 state-controlled and independent networks in 16 countries in the Middle East, including Israel, Iran, Syria, and Lebanon. It also excerpts the Palestinian Authority's news channel.

Last month, the show had to stop using material from Lebanese station al-Manar, after the US State Department declared it a terrorist organization, since it is owned and operated by Hezbollah, which is also on the US list of terrorist groups.

Charles Jacobs, a Newton resident, classified ''Mosaic" this week as ''hate speech" and compared it with airing a public access channel in Roxbury featuring Southern white supremacist David Duke. Jacobs is the president of the David Project, which defines its goal as promoting a ''fair and honest" portrayal of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But when asked about specific criticisms of the show, he said that he only watched it once when it first aired. Based on that show, he said his main criticism is that ''Mosaic" condenses the Arab media down to a program that portrays the Arab world in a positive light.

''They whitewash the reality of who these states are who run these TV shows. They give you the smiley face," Jacobs said. ''It's a lie. The whole endeavor is a lie.

''These stations, in Arabic, in their un-whitewashed form, teach the Arab world that the Jews are killers," he added. ''To pretend that these stations are like an Arab version of CNN is a lie, it's a deception. And that deception shouldn't be broadcast because it falsely represents these stations."

The show began airing locally last year at the request of Arthur S. Obermayer, who said he wanted Newton residents to have an alternative news source for issues involving the Middle East. NewTV has a policy that requires the station to air any program that its dues-paying members request, provided that the content is legal. Obermayer also pushed for the station to start airing the program five days a week.

''I think it's more important than ever for it to be available, primarily because we rarely see what's going on in the cities in Iraq because our reporters are in the green zone, and for good reason they don't go out," Obermayer said. ''The Arab television stations have reporters on the ground that feel safe."

Obermayer, 73, runs the Obermayer Foundation, an organization that hands out an annual award to Germans who work to preserve Jewish culture and history in their local communities.

Obermayer said he doesn't agree with everything on the show, but it's something he watches to gain perspective on another part of the world. ''There are things on Mosaic that I don't particularly like, and there are things on Mosaic that represent a perspective that I am not prepared to endorse," Obermayer said. It bothers him, for example, that some of the networks ''Mosaic" includes refer to as ''martyrs" those he considers terrorists.

''But I also spend a lot of time watching Fox News, particularly Bill O'Reilly," he said. ''There are a lot of things that Bill O'Reilly says that I don't agree with at all, but I think it's good for me to watch it. It helps me understand his perspective. I don't want to just hear things that I like."

Adding the four days of programming for ''Mosaic" will involve changing the times and channels for several other shows, Berg said, but it won't result in any cancellations. Shows such as ''Spotlight on Seniors" and ''At the Library" will be moved, for example. A locally produced show called ''What Matters" aired its last show this week, Berg said, which will free up some extra programming time.

NewTV is funded primarily through fees from cable providers RCN and Comcast and was formed through a 1991 licensing agreement with the city. About 20,000 Newton homes have access to the station.

The station all along has stood by the show and said that airing it is a First Amendment right. The attention, it seems, has been good for the station.

''In the three months that this controversy raged last year, we added 125 new members, which is more than we added in the entire previous year," he said. The station now has 454 members. In addition, four new ''pro-Israel" programs have started airing in the past year, Berg said.

In the first three months that the show aired, NewTV received a flood of complaints. In a press conference at City Hall, Mayor David B. Cohen last year criticized the show for providing a ''fundamentally distorted view" and publicly supported efforts to remove the show. Several residents explored the possibility of filing a lawsuit against the station and asking the city to intervene in some way.

No suits were filed, however, and despite several discussions at aldermanic committee meetings, the city has done nothing to intervene. Since then, there have been few complaints, Berg said.

''There are hundreds of channels, and for one of them to carry something like this, either a half-hour a week or half-hour a day, is not a big deal," Obermayer said. ''If you don't want to watch it, watch something else."

Matt Viser can be reached at 

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