Alhurra

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Alhurra (or Al Hurra), is an Arabic-language American satellite TV channel based in Springfield, Virigina, financed by the U.S. government, and "aimed at viewers in the Middle East." As with other forms of U.S. public diplomacy, it is not allowed to broadcast inside the U.S. because of the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act.[1]. The channel is owned by the Middle East Television Network Inc., a holding company, and overseen by the U.S.-funded Broadcasting Board of Governors.

The U.S. established the network to counter what it considered the anti-American slant of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya networks. Dubbed as the "American answer to Al Jazeera, the station went online 14 February 2004.[2][23] The Washington Post described Al Hurra as "the U.S. government's largest and most expensive effort to sway foreign opinion over the airwaves since the creation of Voice of America in 1942."[3]

According to the Washington Post, Al Hurra broadcasts 24-hour a day and "airs two daily hour-long newscasts, and sports, cooking, fashion, technology and entertainment programs, including a version of 'Inside the Actors Studio' dubbed in Arabic. It also carries political talk shows and magazine-type news programs, including one about the U.S. presidential election. "Eighty of Alhurra's 150 journalists moved here from Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries. Fifty remained abroad to work in the network's bureaus in Amman, Baghdad, Beirut and Dubai."[4]

According to ProPublica, Alhurra is "most expensive foreign broadcasting effort undertaken by the US government.” [5]

Initial reactions

As broadcasts of the station began in mid-February 2004, its audience regarded the station's claims of providing "accurate and balanced news to viewers 'enabling them to make informed decisions'" with a healthy amount of skepticism. "'There is a problem of credibility related to the United States. This channel will have that problem from the beginning, that it is a cover-up for basic, American unacceptable acts,' said Abdel-Monem Said, director of Egypt's Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies." [6]

A press release announcing Alhurra's launch stated, "The channel is dedicated to presenting accurate, balanced and comprehensive news." [7]

More reactions to Al Hurra

The day after the broadcast began, according to the Guardian/UK, "few people in downtown Cairo confessed to tuning in for the inaugural broadcast. Opinions, however, were plentiful. 'You mean the American propaganda channel?' proved the most popular response."

The Guardian writes that "Al Hurra's debut passed without notice in some quarters: most Egyptians cannot afford a satellite dish. In others, it was given a sceptical glance. On Sunday, the daily newspaper Al Ahram mentioned its arrival in a few, short paragraphs. 'Empty Al Hurra channel ... Handmaiden won't clean the muddy face,' declared a headline in the latest El Osboa. The article argued that Arabs' fury with the United States will not change as long as it 'blindly bows' to Israel." [8]

Al Jazeera quickly discounted its new competitor. "Until the United States does something about [the Palestinian situation], all the PR in the world will not make a difference," said Richard Curtiss of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs told Al Jazeera.[9]

Islam Online, on Monday, February 16, 2004, "dismissed [Al Hurra] as slanted, arrogant and condescending" and as having been "launched to polish the image of the United States in the region."[10]

"Egyptian pundit Salama Ahmed Salama said according to Agence France-Presse ... 'The channel and its presenters insist on the fact they are free, as if they were telling the Arab viewer he is not, that he is oppressed and the United States will teach him freedom. ... It's quite a stupid way of proceeding." Salama is "the editorialist for the government newspaper Al-Ahram who is often critical of the Egyptian political process."

"For the English-language daily, Jordan Times, the launch on Valentine's Day of Alhurra 'to promote the values of democracy and freedom' was no coincidence but part of a U.S. campaign to reach the hearts and minds of the Middle East. ... 'It is eminently more rational to promote such values by argument and example... than by brute military force,' it said in reference to the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq.

"The editor-in-chief of Al-Arab Al-Yawm daily, Taher al-Adwan, said Alhurra's first duty should be 'to provide proof on the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq which were the (U.S.) pretext for invading that country and occupying it ... The new American media campaign in the Arab world is not aimed at spreading democracy but hiding the truth, withholding information,' Adwan wrote."

The Singapore Straits Times reported in March 2004 that two Saudi clerics said that Muslims should not watch, work for, or advertise on the U.S. funded Al-Hurra satellite channel. In a written fatwa, Sheik Ibrahim al-Khudairi said the channel was "founded by America to fight Islam, and to propagate massive decay to Americanise the world."[11]

The Hill reported in July 2004 that nearly half of the Voice of America's staff signed a petition complaining that the Broadcasting Board of Governors launched "new services in the Middle East with no editorial accountability" while cutting back VoA programs in the region. One VoA editor called the new Middle East networks - Radio Sawa, Al Hurra and Radio Farda - "expensive and ill advised." The VoA petition claims the new networks "provide inadequate news coverage and do not operate under VoA's charter, which guarantees balanced reporting." Other Middle East media have questioned the credibility of the new U.S.-funded networks.[12]

In October 2004, the Washington Post reported that Al Hurra's news director Mouafac Harb bristled at the claim that offered a more pro-U.S. version of the news than other Arabic channels and was having a hard time reaching many viewers because of the perception that it is American propaganda. Al Hurra news director Mouafac Harb responded to charges by saying, "We're state-funded, but not state-run. I don't recall getting a phone call from someone trying to steer the news. Ever." The Post pointed out, however, that U.S. Rep. Jose E. Serrano (D-N.Y.) said at a hearing in April, that's exactly why Congress is funding it. "Do not tell us it's not propaganda, because if it's not propaganda, then I think ... we will have to look at what it is we are doing," Serrano said.[24]

U.S. motivations

According to "Norman Pattiz, a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors' Middle East Committee, the government agency which oversees Voice of America and now Al Hurra, explained that the newscasts would be free from government influence. The network's mission, he said, was to provide independent and credible journalism, not to sway hearts or influence opinions."

The Al Hurra web site states that the satellite television network (and Al Hurra Iraq) is operated by a non-profit corporation called the Middle East Television Network, Inc. (MTN) and receives its funding from the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), "an independent and autonomous Federal entity."[13]

George W. Bush alluded to Al Hurra in his January 2004 State of the Union address. "To cut through the barriers of hateful propaganda, the Voice of America and other broadcast services are expanding their programs in Arabic and Persian -- and, soon a new television service will begin providing reliable news and information across the region," Bush said.[14]

According to a February 3, 2004, UPI news report, its creation "reflects the changing foreign policy priorities of an administration set on winning the global war on terrorism and the hearts and minds of the countries where terrorists recruit." The network was to be funded with $30 million in the U.S. State Department's budget request for 2004.

According to the February 9, 2004, Christian Science Monitor,[25] "One way the US will try to change its image, particularly in the Arabic world, is the Al Hurra, or 'The Free One,' network. President Bush announced last Wednesday that Al Hurra will start this week, and is designed as an alternative to Middle-Eastern broadcasts often critical of the US.

"The broadcasts will be transmitted from a facility in Springfield, VA., and will cost the government $62 million for the first year of operation. Mr. Bush said Al Hurra will aim to cut through the 'hateful propaganda that fills the airwaves in the Muslim world' and tell people 'the truth about the values and the policies of the United States.' The Los Angeles Times reports officials of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the agency responsible for US government-sponsored international broadcasting efforts, promise that the channel will have high-quality production and editorial independence. Norman J. Pattiz, a board member and the founder of Westwood One, the largest US radio network, has been active in the project.

"Al Hurra is not the first attempt American governments have made in the Middle East to change Arab opinions about the US."[15]

Compared to Al Jazeera

Imad Musa, who worked in Al Jazeera's Washington bureau before becoming a producer for Al Hurra, "said he received assurances of journalistic freedom before taking the job and has not felt pressure to slant a story. There are, he acknowledged, differences between the policies of his current and former employer. Alhurra's reporters are told not to refer to the U.S. presence in Iraq as an occupation. Those who set off explosive devices attached to their bodies are called suicide bombers, not martyrs." Musa also said that Al Hurra reporters covering Iraq "focus on more human-interest and positive stories. For instance, 'electricity has arrived in this neighborhood,' not 'this neighborhood still doesn't have electricity'." [16]

Forum Discussion

Possible contract "irregularities"

In November 2005 the Financial Times reported that the Broadcasting Board of Governors had asked State Department's Inspector General to investigate Al Hurra for "possible irregularities" with procurement and contracting as well as "concerns that viewing figures might be inflated." The BBG oversees Al Hurra, which has a budget of $49 million for 2005. The House of Representatives subcommittee on oversight and investigations is also looking into the Virginia-based network, which broadcasts to 22 countries. The FT reports Kenneth Tomlinson -- BBG chair and until very recently a member of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- and Al Hurra news director Mouafac Harb will be called as witnesses for the November 10 hearing. According to the FT, Harb called the inspector general's investigation a general review into whether al-Hurra was fulfilling its mission. "There's a campaign against al-Hurra by some people in this city who don't like our dedication to freedom and democracy," he said. [17]

Management

Alhurra's website states, "Alhurra is operated by a private corporation called 'The Middle East Broadcast Network, Inc.' (MBN). MBN is financed by the American people through the Congress. MBN receives this funding from the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), an independent and autonomous Federal entity. The BBG serves as a firewall to protect the professional independence and integrity of the broadcasters." [18]

Handling Abu Ghraib

On May 5, 2004, following revelations of the abuse, torture, rape and killing of Iraqi detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison, by U.S. military officers and private military contractors, President Bush granted an interview to Alhurra.[19]

Reporter killed

On February 9, 2005, Abdul-Hussein Khazal, Alhurra's Basra correspondent, and his young son were fatally shot outside their house in the southern Iraqi city of Basra. [20][21]

Expanding to Europe

In February 2005, Reuters reported on plans to broadcast Alhurra to Muslim communities in Europe, as part of the Bush administration's "new escalation of its information war against Islamic extremism." France and Germany, the European countries with the largest Muslim populations, were reported to be of special interest as "potential breeding grounds of extremism," while Russia would not be included. [22]

"The 9/11 hijackers came largely from Europe. It's a significant gap that we were not broadcasting in Arabic to Europe," remarked BBG chair Kenneth Y. Tomlinson. The broadcasts were planned to start in the fall of 2005, with $3.5 billion in start-up funding from the $81 billion supplemental budget request for military operations in Iraq. The Reuters report also noted, "Officials say that Alhurra has grown to reach about 25 percent of satellite television viewers in the Middle East."[23]

Changes in leadership and programming

A March 2007 opinion piece by Joel Mowbray in the Wall Street Journal expressed concern at changes in Al Hurra's programming since "longtime CNN producer, Larry Register" became the channel's news director in November 2006. "Investigations into Arab government wrongdoing or oppression were no longer in vogue, and the ban on turning the airwaves over to terrorists was lifted. For those who had chafed under Mr. Register's predecessor -- who curbed the desire of many on staff to make Al-Hurra more like al-Jazeera -- the new era was welcomed warmly," wrote Mowbray. [24]

Activity During the Arab Spring

Alhurra was extremely active during the wave of protests that hit the Arab world in 2010 and 2011. Alhurrah billed itself as "one of the few sources of independent and reliable information."[25] However, many were critical of Alhurra's largely pro-Western bias and lack of regional accountability: "There is one thing in common between Congress-funded Arabic TV, Alhurra, and countries of the Arab Spring." Said Huffington Post Journalist Hussain Abdul Hassan "Both have unaccountable leaders, who have been in place since forever, and who look like they are staying indefinitely." [26]. Alhurrah came under intense scruity from the US Senate at about the same time, amid questions about the effectiveness of their programming. Funding for Alhurra had been under review since 2009, whin an initial State Department audit found evidence of financial mismanagement.[27] The Senate committee in charge of funding Alhurra concluded that "either greater resources must be devoted to marketing and promotion or additional programming changes must be enacted in pursuit of increasing (Al-Hurra’s) market share.”[28].

At the end of 2011, Alhurrah produced a 12 part documentary series about Arab Spring, stating that "Each episode will capture the pulse and sentiment of the people on the street, in the cities, and around the battles that have marked this past year of profound and dramatic change, while seeking insight into the future," [29]

Contact

Springfield, Virginia
USA<
Phone: + 1 (703) 852-9000
Email: media AT alhurra.com
Web: alhurra.com

SourceWatch resources

External links

References

  1. William Fisher, "Airwaves Off-Limits to New Propaganda Tsar", Inter Press Service/Common Dreams, July 27, 2005
  2. [1]
  3. [2]
  4. [3]
  5. Dafna Linzer:Alhurrah's Effectiveness, Expense Criticized in a new Senate Report Propublica, Accessed April 12th, 2012
  6. [4]
  7. [5]
  8. Matthew Kraft: US Arabic Channel a turn-off The Guardian, Accessed April 12th, 2012
  9. [6]
  10. [7][8]
  11. [9]
  12. [10]
  13. [11]
  14. [12]
  15. [13]
  16. [14]
  17. [15]
  18. [16]
  19. [17]
  20. [18]
  21. [19]
  22. [20]
  23. [21]
  24. [22]
  25. MBN Brief on Alhurra and Radio Sawa, Accessed April 12th, 2012.
  26. Hussein Abdul Hassan:Alhurra and the Arab Spring The Arab Spring, Accessed April 12th, 2012.
  27. Dafna Linzer:Alhurra Targeted for Review By State Dept. Inspector General Propublica, 2012
  28. Dafna Linzer:Alhurrah's Effectiveness, Expense Criticized in a new Senate Report Propublica, Accessed April 12th, 2012
  29. Rebecca Hawkins Alhurrah Arab Spring Documentary Accessed April 12th, 2012

Reports

Articles