Harris Corp. Will Oversee Broadcast Upgrades in Iraq
Broadcast engineers and station executives in the United States may think of transmitters and other hardware when they think of Harris Corp. Yet in some of the 90 nations where it conducts business, including Iraq, Harris assumes a wider role of media activity with the added responsibilities of overseeing broadcast news and program content, and even print media.
In the second Iraqi contract it has been awarded since last fall, Harris announced it will receive $96 million to “develop an existing but antiquated media network into a modern media organization” for the people of Iraq.
The overall project, known as the Iraqi Media Network, is ambitious: It consists of equipment upgrades, operation, training and programming for two radio and two TV terrestrial networks and one national newspaper for the Baghdad market and at least 30 smaller markets.
Until last April, Saddam Hussein and his late son, Uday, controlled these media outlets.
“This is a major ‘win’ for us,” said Harris Chairman and CEO Howard Lance in an interview from his Melbourne, Fla., office.
“In the government systems business, we have a lot of expertise in applications of technology and in overseeing large communications technology programs for military and civilian agencies,” ranging from the U.S. Justice Department to the National Weather Service to all four branches of the military, he said.
While several national news stories at the time of the January announcement referred to Harris as a “media company” and implied that it would be handling actual programming duties and local and national news coverage in Iraq, Lance stressed that Harris remains primarily an equipment supplier to the industry, here and abroad.
The Harris CEO said the company will rely on partners experienced in the region to carry out the media mission, especially Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. International, and Al-Fawares, a Kuwaiti company partly owned by Iraqis, which publishes the Arabic version of Newsweek magazine.
Harris and its partners will have their work cut out for them if making the revamped media services popular among local citizens is any priority.
According to various news reports, Harris’ predecessor in Iraq, Science Applications International Corp., a U.S. defense contractor, failed to stimulate viewer or listener interest because of the widely held perception that the U.S.-financed news and public affairs broadcasts in the months since major hostilities ended on May 1, 2003, was biased towards America and its allies.
“We rely on our partners here. Harris is not in these (program content) businesses and we would not want out regular customers to think that we are about to become another network. That is certainly not the case,” Lance said.
“As you might guess, this is a rather large project and Harris is sort of the leading contractor. The (U.S.) government is looking at one company for oversight: Harris. Right now our partners and we want to put in place the infrastructure for local news reporting and for newsgathering. We want to put in place a management structure similar to what you’d find in similar operations (elsewhere),” Lance said.
Congress, meanwhile, is keeping a close eye on the new media initiative to ensure that the $96 million in taxpayer funding is earmarked for creating a press environment free of undo influence from any new Iraqi government.
Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been vocal about Washington’s concerns and vows to keep close tabs on the project.
Also, interim Iraqi Communications Minister Haider Abadi recently told The Financial Times that he was not consulted on the project, and has threatened to attempt to cancel it in July when the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority is scheduled to turn over power to a new Iraqi government.
Abadi said he appreciated U.S. efforts to get his country back up to speed in a post-war environment, but cautioned that Iraq should not turn over control of its press, even temporarily, to “foreign media.”
In September 2003, Harris was awarded its first Iraqi contract to help set up a more modest terrestrial radio infrastructure, in association with the Voice of America and the Army Corps of Engineers. That fall project was the result, in part, of Harris taking the initiative three months earlier to set up a regional office to pursue business opportunities.
The company’s multi-faceted Iraqi activities are prominently displayed on the home page of its main Web site, dubbed “Iraq Telecommunications Infrastructure Solutions.”
Lance said the Iraqi regional office was set up last summer “to showcase the various levels of capabilities we have at Harris. We wanted to combine those capabilities from our broadcasting product, our transmitters and other hardware and software – and our various kinds of digital technology and studio automated equipment – all together for the Iraq effort. We’ve had people ‘in-country’ in Iraq over several months and in neighboring countries.”
Maj. Gary Tallman, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, said the “Harris contract was awarded in a fair and open bidding process – transparent – as all such contracts. Harris met the criteria the best.”
He said the Army is the “executive agent” for the contracting procedure. “We always make sure it’s a fair and open process.”
Tallman, who specializes in acquisition and logistics issues, said there were at least four other companies besides Harris that submitted bids, which are based on overall cost-effectiveness and other criteria. The Army does not release the names of losing bidders.
Although the latest $96 million Harris contract initially runs for one year, it includes a provision to extend it for up to 12 months, which would grow the overall value of the mission to about $165 million. Traditionally, Tallman said, such extensions are not uncommon, especially if ongoing work is found to be generally satisfactory and the chief goals of the mission have not been met in the initial time allotted.
“We’re there to help the Iraqi people achieve something many of them have never had, at least not in recent memory,” Tallman said. “The Harris Corporation and the Army Corp of Engineers, among others, now look forward to working with the Iraqi people to make all this finally happen for them.”