Good piece lamenting the decision to let the Voice of America Arabic service go to seed.
The author, former VOA deputy director Alan Heil, looks at Radio Sawa, the pop music driven alternative cooked up by Norm Pattiz and the Broadcasting Board of Governors, and gets the problem exactly right: "Since Radio Sawa went on the air seven months after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Iraqi war erupted and the Israel-Palestinian conflict intensified, with no breakthrough in sight. Yet the BBG seemed oblivious to such crises. It imposed new pop music services in Persian as well as Urdu (to Pakistan) on both VOA and Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty. As a consequence, quality audiences - educated and influential leaders and reformers - are "out." Mass audiences - youths primarily attracted by entertainment - are "in." The losers are not only the US, which needs to have a substantive voice in the global marketplace of ideas, but intellectually curious listeners the world over."
Heil also points out that - rather shockingly - Radio Sawa has not been subjected to any oversight, such as review of its content. Pattiz can talk all he wants about market share, but since we literally do not know what is being said in the broadcasts, and there is no evident impact on political preferences, I just can't get too excited about Radio Sawa's "stunning success."
Heil also points out the obvious flaw with the audience surveys Pattiz has been publicizing, supposedly showing that al Hurra is reaching a large audience - 61%, he claims. Heil points out that "Independent surveys, however, have indicated lower figures. Middle East scholar Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland claims that Al-Hurra is regarded as a favored news source by relatively few viewers. None of the more than 3,000 people his survey team questioned in six Arab countries last spring rated it as their first source of news. Only 3.8 percent rated it as even a second choice." I haven't seen the internals of the BBG's surveys, but I suspect that they are using a question such as 'have you tuned in to al Hurra in the last week?' - which would easily give a high number, given the channel-surfing habits of many Arabs (and non-Arabs!), rather than the more useful questions like 'which station to you prefer for news?' or 'what is your first preference, second preference, etc.?'
Overall, it's worth reading.
UPDATE: the reason that I go into detail on the shortcomings of the BBG surveys above is that not only that partisan hacks then obediently trumpetted them as evidence that, in the alternative universe in which they live, al Hurra's critics had been wrong, but also that they were cited in Senate testimony and have since been repeated in news stories without much challenge. They should be challenged - accepting uncritically survey results commissioned by the station's owners which are sharply at odds with the findings of independent surveys just doesn't cut it.