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June 15, 2007

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Ghurab al-Bain

Nice piece - although the difference between TV/Radio Marti is that it cannot actually been seen in Cuba for technical reasons - it basically transmits to a lot of empty ocean. Al-Hurra actually CAN be seen quite easily in the Arab world - it is on both Nilesat and Arabsat - it is just that no one wants to. I don't know which case is more pathetic: broadcasting to empty space or putting something which can be easily seen that no one wants to.

Hilary

Hi Marc- your Guardian CIF article is excellent. I wrote something for the UK-based web magazine 21stCenturySocialism a couple of months ago on the same subject:

Sell Me Your Ears

Under globalised capitalism, money can buy many things. But, as US policymakers are discovering to their increasing frustration, even $650 million can’t buy a credulous audience for their message to the world.

The Al Hurra TV station, which broadcasts in Arabic to the Middle East, has a noble mission statement:

“The channel is dedicated to presenting accurate, balanced and comprehensive news. Alhurra endeavors to broaden its viewers’ perspectives, enabling them to make more informed decisions.”

It is hard to argue with that. Except that when vying for increased funding, the committee which runs the station, the US Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), explained its mission in a rather different way:

“We have become convinced that to advance U.S. foreign policy goals, we must dramatically improve our performance in key markets across the globe.”

On its website, the station describes its management and funding arrangements with a certain coyness:

“Alhurra is operated by non-profit corporation ‘The Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Inc.’ (MBN). MBN is financed by the American people through the U.S Congress.

“MBN receives this funding from the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), an independent and autonomous federal agency.”

This is stretching the truth somewhat. Under the USA’s 1998 Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act, eight of the nine governors of the BBG are appointed by the President of the United States of America. The ninth governor is the US Secretary of State, currently Ms Condoleeza Rice.

Financially, the governors have been highly successful. Official US government spending on the international broadcasting media run by the BBG has risen from $420 million in 2000 to $650 million in 2006-2007, with a proposed increase to $670 million next year- and these figures do not include the projects financed through the US government’s National Endowment for Democracy and the quaintly-named US Institute for Peace, nor the covert projects of the CIA. This increased funding has enabled the BBG to greatly increase the coverage and variety of its broadcasting channels.

But in respect of advancing US foreign policy goals, the BBG has enjoyed what might be described as negative success...

More:

http://21stcenturysocialism.com/article/sell_me_your_ears_01452.html

I'd be interested in your thoughts on the issues raised in the piece.

Craig

Marc, for a guy who claims to specialize in American "public policy" promotion or whatever, you sure as hell seem to be aligned with the other team, to me. Are you sure it isn't Arab "public policy" that you attempt to promote in the west?

What am I missing? You don't really seem much different from Josh what's his name, the US professor who is an a paid Syrian mouthpiece.

You know the biggest problem with promotion of US public policy? The fact that guys like you have jobs. Why hasn't anyone dis-invited you to be heard on the issue, yet? Are they really that fucking dense, in DC?

I'm sorry if I'm being rude, but it really is pretty alarming that you are even able to find work in your so-called field of expertise. Al Hurra is not the best evidence of US failure - you are.

Craig

And another thing... was it really necessary to engage in America-bashing in a UK paper that is famous for it? Is that your idea of American "public diplomacy"? To run down your own country in the foreign press? Well, good job, man!

Look at your commentators and what they say about the US, and you can see what a success you are, no!?

Your biggest fans are self-loathing lunatic leftists and Arab bigots. You haven't noticed?

Geof

Good god "Craig" you're like a caricature of a human being. I mean wow. Honestly, making a joke about Anne Coulter would be a little redundant at this point. I'm sorry if "I'm being rude", but you are just plain ridiculous.

My apologies to Prof. Lynch if this post elicits further nonsense of the close-minded variety, but as a fellow eph, I feel compelled to politely tell this "Craig" guy to get bent.

aardvark

Geof - don't worry, Craig is my personal troll. We keep him around because he's deeply funny... nobody takes him seriously. He keeps threatening to stop reading, but somehow never does!

Charlie

I think your piece raises an interesting point - the use of the appellation "Arabic-speaking." You mention that Joel Mowbray doesn't speak Arabic - fine enough - but you do so with the implicit aim of demeaning his ability to offer criticism of Register's leadership at Al-Hurra. You also mention that Register's lack of Arabic proved to be his Achilles Heal.

The question I would like to ask is whether one need be a Arabic speaker to either run a network like Al-Hurra or offer criticism of its management. To be honest, I would rather have a seasoned broadcast executive (Register) who doesn't speak Arabic than a fluent native with little or poor broadcasting experience. I would also suggest that it is possible to offer criticism without being an Arabic speaker, although I would be careful to make sure I was on very firm ground re: translated material.

This links into a general concern I have about "Arabic-speaker" being some sort of weird talisman required to comment on anything relating to the Arab world. Am I better off speaking Arabic? Sure, I love the language and it gives me access to all sorts of material that would be a pain in the ass to have translated and people who don't speak English or French. On the other hand, you have to resist the temptation to pull it out like a trump card in order to bully your opponents with it. Juan Cole does this all the time, even when he is clearly correct on the merits, and it really bugs me.

BTW, Marc - you linked last week via del.icio.us to Jim Mattis' new reading list for MARCENTCOM. You knocked the section on the Middle East, deservedly, for leading off with Patai's book. If you could put five to ten books (or perhaps also articles) on the list, with the guidance that this should be something substantial and informative, but also accessible, what would you suggest?

aardvark

Charlie - fair points, both of them. On the Arabic question, at the extremes I definitely agree with you: better a talented newsman like Register than a poorly qualified Arabic speaker like, well, Harb and Nassif. But wouldn't it be better to get both? Surely there are talented, qualified Arabic speakers - it isn't like the job doesn't pay well or offer professional challenges. The reason I mentioned that Mowbray doesn't speak Arabic is just that he made Register's lack of Arabic an issue, and then offered a series of claims about the station's programming that he himself was absolutely unqualified to make. All he had were snippets handpicked by Register's enemies, which would make a responsible journalist blush.

Re the book list, that's a very good question. Let me think about it and maybe I'll try to do a post on it since a lot of people would probably find it useful.

Tom Scudder

I dunno. There's some pretty ferocious competition for talent right now - Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya want to hang on to their people (and AJ just launched an all-documentary channel, as well as AJ English), Future TV is going to run a 24-hour news channel, there's the new BBC Arabic and the Russian Arabic news channel and at least one other all-Arabic 24-hour news channel that I know of, and a lot of the new channels are doing at least some news broadcasts or documentaries or talk shows or current affairs shows... Lots of opportunities for people to make names for themselves. And that's without being associated with an American propaganda channel, which can't be good for the long-term career prospects of an Arabic-speaking journalist.

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