The American Embassy in Islamabad, in a bid to tamp down public rage over the anti-Islam film produced in the U.S., is spending $70,000 to air an ad on Pakistani television that features President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton denouncing the video.
The State Department said Thursday the embassy had compiled brief clips of Obama and Clinton rejecting the contents of the movie and extolling American tolerance for all religions into a 30-second public service announcement that is running on seven Pakistani networks. Obama and Clinton's comments, which are from previous public events in Washington, are in English but subtitled in Urdu, the main Pakistani language.
Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the aim was to get the messages to the widest possible audience in Pakistan, where tens of thousands of protestors angry about the film tried to reach the U.S. embassy before being turned back by Pakistani police. She said embassy staffers had decided the ads were the best way to spread the word. The seven networks have a potential audience of 90 million people, she added.
"The sense was that this particular aspect of the president and the secretary's message needed to be heard by more Pakistanis than had heard, and that this was an effective way to get that message out," Nuland told reporters in Washington. The ads are not running in other countries, she said.
In the ad, Obama is seen talking about America's tradition of religious tolerance and Clinton is seen saying that the U.S. government had nothing to do with the video that contains vulgar depiction of the Prophet Muhammad.
"We absolutely reject its content and message," Clinton says in the advertisement.
A caption on the ad reads: "Paid Content" and it ends with the seal of the American Embassy in Islamabad.
Nuland said it was common practice to pay to air public service announcements in Pakistan and noted that the embassy there had done it at least one other time, in the aftermath of a deadly 2005 earthquake that hit the country.
In an email sent after the ads began running Thursday, the embassy in Islamabad also distributed a link to video of ordinary Americans condemning the anti-Islam film, which appeared on YouTube.
Nuland said that some of the comments on the video had been solicited by the U.S. government from religious leaders and other prominent people in order to demonstrate that anti-Muslim sentiment is not widely shared in the United States.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar defended her government's decision to declare Friday a holiday to allow people to peacefully protest the video. She said the so-called "day of loving the prophet" would motivate the peaceful majority to demonstrate their love for Muhammad and not allow extremists to turn it into a show of anger against the United States.
"We are very confident this will lessen the violence," Khar said. But, she acknowledged: "There will always be elements that will try to take advantage of these things."