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Mideast show set to air; foes vow to press fight

(1911-2003)
By Rhonda Stewart, Globe Staff, 1/22/2004 Tuesday, May 27, 2003

By all accounts, it's rare that a show has generated so much protest before it has been aired on Newton's public access television channel.

On Tuesday at 10:30 p.m., NewTV will begin showing ''Mosaic," a half-hour package of news broadcasts from state-controlled and independent Middle Eastern television networks. It will run weekly.

Supporters of the show say it gives a critical, and instructive, view of how the United States is seen by the rest of the world. Critics say it contains incorrect translations and is biased against Israel.

''There's a growing awareness and anger. People are calling for planning meetings about what to do," said Charles Jacobs, who heads the Boston-based David Project, an organization that aims to promote a ''fair and honest" depiction of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Jacobs was among 50 people who spoke at a meeting held at NewTV headquarters Jan. 14 by the board of directors of Newton Communications Access Center Inc. The board then voted to add satellite programming to the lineup of mostly locally produced shows. The station has shown nonlocal, or imported, shows since its inception, but new equipment has enabled it to expand outside programming.

''Mosaic" is produced by Link TV (formerly called World Link TV) in San Rafael, Calif., by Jamal Dajani, a Palestinian American, and David Michaelis, an Israeli Jew. The two oversee a staff of six, most of whom speak Hebrew, Arabic, and English. The team monitors newspapers and websites as well as television broadcasts from 30 networks in 16 countries. The show features news from the Palestinian Authority and networks in Israel, Iran, Syria, and Lebanon, among other nations. Broadcasts are also available online.

According to the company, ''Mosaic" is available in 20 million homes with satellite hookups around the country.

The show was suggested to NewTV officials by Arthur S. Obermayer, who is among the Newton station's 375 dues-paying members. In the run-up to the war in Iraq, Obermayer said he was looking for news sources to help him better understand what was going on in the Middle East. Obermayer, who is Jewish, said he appreciates the concern about anti-Semitism being raised but said the idea is to let Americans see the news as those in the Arab world do. ''To understand why they're saying what they're saying is better than putting your head in the sand like an ostrich," Obermayer said. ''I'm very disturbed when I feel somebody is controlling what news I see."

But Brenda Loew, who is also a NewTV member, said Tuesday she is gearing up to file a lawsuit accusing station officials of treason. She admitted that she is not yet sure where the suit may be filed and is prepared to do it on a pro se basis, or without an attorney. Loew helps produce another program on NewTV, ''Newton Talk," a weekly show on local issues. She described ''Mosaic" as terrorist propaganda that is inappropriate to air while the country is engaged in a war against terrorism.

''There are Newton families with kids in the armed services right now." she said. ''Soldiers are dying and we should not have uncensored broadcasts from the Middle East."

According to NewTV executive director Paul Berg, the station is available in 20,000 Newton homes through Comcast and RCN. The station is funded primarily through local access fees from the two cable operators. Berg said the station airs about 19 hours of imported programming per week, including a show with Haitian news. The station was established through a 1991 licensing agreement with the city. Recently renewed, the contract runs through 2011.

Berg said he could not comment on the possibility of a lawsuit over ''Mosaic." But he encourages those concerned about the show to create their own program in response. That approach was used after another controversial show aired on NewTV in 1992 called ''The Gay Agenda." Berg said the show claimed that gays and lesbians were trying to get jobs as teachers to encourage young people to become gay. The program drew fire from the city's Human Rights Commission. NewTV later aired a program featuring a panel discussion rebutting the claim.

''People are encouraged to do the same if they have concerns about 'Mosaic,' " Berg said. ''We have no right to deny access to offensive programs. We have only the right to encourage people to respond."

Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.

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