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Al-Hurra - Bad News Reporting is Bad News


Al-Hurra, the US sponsored TV station in the Middle East, is not doing its job. We can discount a lot of the animosity generated when the station was launched, which was based on the idea that anything coming from the USA had to be bad. For example:

Perhaps the sharpest criticism has come from the Saudi daily Asharq Al Awsat, who said Muslim fundamentalist groups had urged Arab audiences to boycott Al Hurra, which they accused of seeking to brainwash Arabs and Muslims. They also called on Muslim clerics to issue religious edicts forbidding Muslims from watching Al Hurra, which they said promotes ideas that contradict religious principles.

What sort of ideas? For example:

On the first day of broadcast, the station presented a program on efforts at coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis...


The same sort of deep thinking is reflected in an article in Slate, where Ed Finn reported:

Syria's Tishrin skipped bafflement and moved directly to outrage: "This station is part of a project to recolonize the Arab homeland that the United States seeks to implement through a carrot-and-stick policy."


Middle Eastern papers were nearly unanimous in arguing that American support of Israel and its occupation of Iraq are the issues that fuel anti-American sentiment—and Al Hurra can do little to disguise this.


Al-Khaleej of the United Arab Emirates noted, "If U.S. policy in the region was sound and convincing, they would not resort to cosmetic means to improve their image"

Well Gee Whizz, Ed Finn, whaddaya know! I bet Pravda didn't have anything good to say about Radio Free Europe, and the Volkischer Beobachter, never had much praise for the BBC either. What would you expect Tishreen to say? What would happen to the editor of Tishreen if he wrote that Al-Hurra is a good thing?

But seriously folks, there is no denying that Al-Hurra is not a big success. Apparently, it is boring, superficial, and suffers from the same diseases as the Voice of America. As noted in a widely read Christian Science Monitor article, which analyzed coverage of reports of the death of Ayman Zawahiri:

The television was tuned to Al Jazeera as we listened to Mr. Zawahiri talk about "lies" that Bush had told the US, and new terrorist attacks to come.

The moment the tape finished, the television was turned back to Al Hurra as we waited for the news. Time dragged on, as I prayed that Al Hurra would do this right, and lead the news with Zawahiri's tape.

But as soon as the news came on I knew the US had lost a wonderful opportunity to show the Arab world it was serious about reaching out. The story on al-Zawahiri was buried deep in the newscast with no analysis or discussion, simply the acknowledgment that it had taken place.

"That's it," Amar said. "It is just one more state-run news agency, and we already have plenty of official news."

By the time the Spanish railway bombings took place, frustration and disappointment had set in to such a degree that Al Hurra was only glanced at as we flipped between the coverage on Al Jazeera and Al Arabiyya. Those glimpses did nothing to stop the clicking of the remote: it was programming as usual, no news. And that's why no one here was clicking to Al Hurra last week for coverage of Israel's assassination of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, nor to coverage of the Pakistani Army's fierce battle with Al Qaeda and Taliban remnants on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

In a self-congratulatory article about Al-Hurra, Station director Moufac Harb wrote:

The media reaction to Alhurra has also brought about debate, as the more moderate journalists in the region ask why there were such harsh attacks. Alhurra has made the media in the Middle East turn a critical lens onto itself. Although this was not the immediate goal when Alhurra was launched, it is consistent with this undertaking, to bring forth a fresh perspective of the news.

However, the attention that has been brought to the channel by the Arab media has also brought in viewers. We have received numerous emails from the Middle East, thanking us for Alhurra and praising our objective reporting. This brings us back to the original mission of Alhurra, to provide Arabic-speaking viewers an alternative to the traditional news reports they have endured.

Would that it were so. Here is some fan mail that Al-Hurra will probably never publish, from Syria:

Dear Mr. Mouafac Harb
Director of network news at Alhurra and Radio Sawa.

I have read your article (see below [not appended here])

There is an old Arabic saying: “He who flatters himself is a liar.” You know that Alhurra is a disappointment to all our expectations.

I challenge you to make an independent poll about the reaction of Arab people to your channel’s performance.

You said you receive many appreciating emails but you did not mention the other ones. Why?

I accuse you that you are spending the money of the American taxpayers in a very bad way.

You said that emails are praising your objective reporting. But do you really have any kind of reporting at all?

Your only way for success is that in addition to telling the truth you should simply remind the Arab viewers that Aljazeera and Alarabyia are cheating. And that is also the truth. Not propaganda.

Defend the American viewpoint. Why be very shy about it?

I guarantee that many Arabs will believe you because deep inside they know that you are honest and that the other two channels are not.

Abdul Rahman Alwani

From mail I have been getting, I suspect that Abdul Rahman is not alone in his frustration with Al-Hurra. If you have an opinion about Al-Hurra programming, please write to us or comment below and write to al-hurra as well: comments@alhurra.com. Harb is also responsible for Sawa, another less than successful venture.

The danger is that having done the job poorly, and seeing that Middle Eastern audiences don't like poor TV programing, the US will get the wrong message, and simply scuttle the whole venture, rather than trying to fix what is wrong. There is a great need for good reporting in the Middle East, but Al-Hurra is apparently not going to provide it. Perhaps a government broadcast authority is not the whole answer. Maybe a private venture, or twenty private ventures are needed.

Most of the critics of Al-Hurra have got the wrong idea about what its mission is, and what need it fulfills. Ed Finn wrote:

Middle Eastern papers were nearly unanimous in arguing that American support of Israel and its occupation of Iraq are the issues that fuel anti-American sentiment—and Al Hurra can do little to disguise this. The Jordan Times put it in terms even an American could understand:

No amount of sweet words and pretty pictures will change the reality of an Israeli occupation, soon in its 37th year, or the chaos in Iraq, both of which can be directly attributed to American policy. No one here is going to be convinced of America's benign intentions as long as these issues remain unresolved. It all seems so obvious, at least to most of the people of this region, that, to borrow the phrase of an American cultural icon, "doh!"

You don't say! But the mission of al-Hurra should not be to convince people of America's benign intentions or to make the Middle Eastern audience love America or Israel. The mission is to tell the truth. Sometimes I wonder at the things Americans write about the Middle East. Perhaps Mr. Finn is not aware of what passes for reporting in this part of the world.

Of course, no station that tells the truth can compete for drama and interest with stations that report that the Jews make matzoth from the blood of Christian children, that King Hussein intentionally gave up the West Bank to Israel, that the Sixth Fleet helped the IDF win the 6-day war, that Israel injects Palestinian children with AIDS virus, that the Mossad is operating in Mosul, that Donald Rumsfeld is Jewish, that US soldiers are committing wholesale rape of Iraqi women, or that the US dropped a nuclear weapon on Baghdad. Less dramatically, anyone who blows up Americans or Israelis, whether they are soldiers or children or old ladies, is invariably called a "martyr." Only people who kill other Mulsims are called "terrorists." If a Syrian intellectual is jailed, Mr Finn's Tishreen will not write about it, and neither will Al-Thawra. If Kurds are murdered in Syria, it might be shown on Israeli TV, but not on Syrian TV. If the footage is on a Web site, Syria will block the Web site. If half the women in Saudi Arabia are illiterate, and half the oil-rich countries in the Middle East have infant mortality rates worthy of feudal kingdoms (no wonder, since they ARE feudal kingdoms - "Doh") you will not read about it in Al-Thawra or Tishreen either. No amount of sweet words will change the facts, so the facts just aren't reported, only blablah about the Israeli occupation. That is what passes for news reporting in this part of the world. What is missing, Mr Finn, is a dose of reality and truth. "D'oh."

Al-Hurra doesn't have to hide the facts about the Israeli occupation. But it can also, for example, tell about the Kurdish riots in Syria and show the footage that was smuggled out of there, it can explain who Zawahiri is, it can report on jailed dissidents and give their story, it can report about torture in Syria and Eygpt, and it can expose the fables broadcast by other stations. It can tell women that they don't have to remain illiterate and that no country should have infant mortality rates of 5% in the twenty-first century. Then perhaps people in the Middle East will learn to get the news from reliable sources, and to watch Star Gate or West Wing for imaginative entertainment. They may still hate America and they may hate Israel, but at least they will know the truth.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000249.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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