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US military leaders planning $20m public relations effort

WASHINGTON -- US military leaders in Baghdad have put out for bid a two-year $20 million public relations contract that calls for extensive monitoring of US and Middle Eastern media in an effort to promote more positive coverage of news from Iraq.

The contract calls for assembling a database of selected news stories and assessing their tone as part of a program to provide ``public relations products" that would improve coverage of the military command's performance, according to a statement of work attached to the proposal.

The request for bids comes at a time when Bush administration officials are criticizing media coverage of the war in Iraq.

The proposal, which calls in part for extensive monitoring and analysis of Iraqi, Middle East, and US media, is designed to help the coalition forces understand ``the communications environment." Its goal is to ``develop communication strategies and tactics, identify opportunities, and execute events . . . to effectively communicate Iraqi government and coalition's goals and build support among our strategic audiences in achieving these goals," according to the statement of work that is publicly available through the website

A public relations practitioner who asked for anonymity because he may be involved in a bid on the contract said military commanders ``are overwhelmed by the media out there and are trying to understand how to get their information out.

``They want it [news] to be received by audiences as it is transmitted [by them], but they don't like how it turns out," he said. As an example, he said, there are complaints that stories from Iraq sometimes quote Shi'ite cleric and militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr more than military commanders.

The proposal calls for monitoring ``Iraqi, pan-Arabic, international, and US national and regional markets media in both Arabic and English." That includes broadcast and cable television outlets, the Pentagon channel, two wire services, and three major US newspapers -- The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Los Angeles Times.

Monitors are to select stories that deal with specific issues, such as security, reconstruction, ``high profile" coalition force activities, and events in which Iraqi security forces are ``in the lead." The monitors are to analyze stories to determine the ``dissemination of key themes and messages" along with whether the ``tone" is positive, neutral, or negative.

The media outlets would be monitored for how they present coalition or anti-Iraqi force operations. That part of the proposal could reflect Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's oftenstated concern that the media do not cover positive aspects of Iraq.

The proposal suggests a team of 12 to 18 people who would provide support for the coalition military command as well as the Iraqi government leadership.

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