(excerpt from longer artical)…
Alhurra has not come close to realizing the Bush Administration’s hope that it would someday compete with Al Jazeera, the most-watched station in the Middle East. According to six years of polling by Zogby and the University of Maryland, Al Jazeera remains the favored channel for news for more than 50 percent of Middle East viewers.
Photo courtesy of 60 Minutes Shibley Telhami, a public opinion expert at the University of Maryland, said that about two percent of the audience rates Alhurra as their preferred source of news, about the same percentage that Hezbollah’s Al-Manar station receives.
Al Arabiya, another competitor launched a year before Alhurra, has a 9 percent slice of the audience. That station, which is funded by the Saudi government, has a budget considered to be comparable to Alhurra’s, and its coverage is generally welcomed by the Bush administration.
Alhurra has a separate broadcast for Iraq where its share of audience is larger. Still, Alhurra is the number four network in Iraq, behind Al Jazeera and two others. After four years on air, Telhami said, Alhurra’s impact on public opinion has been “less than zero.”
“For most people in the region,” he said “it’s not really on the radar screen.”
James Glassman, who replaced Hughes at the State Department, disagrees. He said government polling shows that even if Alhurra ranks low by percent, millions of people are still watching. He said that as many as 26 million — roughly 8.5 percent of the Arabic speaking population of the Middle East — tune into Alhurra for some period of time each week.
“Our idea with Alhurra was to create a network that provided high quality, professional journalism with American standards,” Glassman said. The aim, he said, was “balance, objectivity, which really did not exist in the Middle East.”
But William Rugh, the former ambassador who speaks Arabic and has written extensively on Arab media, said Al Jazeera’s coverage of the United States is more in-depth than Alhurra’s and he says the top-rated station covers issues and sparks debate in ways that Alhurra does not.
“Al Jazeera has a whole series of talk shows in which very sensitive, controversial issues are raised by the participants and they have women’s shows as well. They deal with short comings of various Arab governments way beyond what Alhurra does and it is shocking that in some ways, Al Jazeera has done better than Alhurra in covering the United States.”
A study due out next month by a University of Southern California team questions whether the network has achieved either objectivity or professionalism. The review was commissioned by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees Alhurra.
Researchers involved in the project, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the BBG set tight parameters for the study, telling investigators to focus only on content aired on Alhurra’s pan-Arab station and not to compare it with broadcasts by competitors. Researchers were not allowed to interview Alhurra staff or to select the period of coverage to examine.
After reviewing broadcasts from the month of November, the USC team concluded that reporters and anchormen on Alhurra cited claims about Washington’s “war on terror” that were unsubstantiated, or not backed up by evidence, 30 percent of the time. The study found that personal opinion was often expressed on-air. Objectivity was rated low.
The researchers studied the network’s coverage of the three-day Mideast summit in Annapolis, Md. and found that it strongly favored U.S. and Israeli government positions. Throughout November, they concluded, the network also strongly supported the Iraqi government and was especially favorable to pro-Iranian political figures inside Iraq.
At round-table discussions held in Egypt and Lebanon, audiences gave Alhurra low marks. In Cairo, participants laughed after watching clips, researchers said. The viewers pointed out that Alhurra programs included poor translations. They said it was difficult to understand the Lebanese accents of some hosts and reporters and they noted embarrassing misspellings, including the word “Syria.”
Conniff said he and his staff have worked hard to improve the station’s quality. Alhurra has made election coverage a specialty area and offers programming on women’s issues, American culture and blue jeans.
A recent report by the State Department’s Inspector General noted that Alhurra now has a functioning assignment desk, holds regular editorial meetings and has hosted mini-training sessions with journalism professors.
But the IG also cast doubt on claims by Nassif, the news director, that he alone is able to oversee the content of Alhurra’s three 24-hour broadcasts, and Sawa’s two radio services. Nassif told inspectors and reporters from ProPublica and 60 Minutes that he approves every guest for every show and is available 24-hours a day.
Photo courtesy of 60 Minutes Glassman, the Undersecretary of State who was chairman of the BBG for the last six months, said U.S. taxpayers are right to be concerned about Alhurra. “We’ve made mistakes and we will and have rectified them.”
However, he said Alhurra was delivering high-quality programming to a “part of the world that’s absolutely critical to American interests, that is not hearing and seeing this kind of broadcasting right now. And it makes the world safer, I believe, that we’re doing what we’re doing.”
Glassman, who was initially skeptical of Alhurra, added another thought.
“It wouldn’t be bad if we got put out of business. That is to say, if the Arab world’s own media became so good as, let’s say, the media in Poland did after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Now, is that going to happen in five years? I kind of doubt it. But it’s certainly possible.”
Robert Lewis contributed research to this story.
And what is american standard? American journalism sucks! This last colonial war is
a good example of journalists looking the other way or suck the goverment. And how about
the objectivity of american journalism and TV stations?! Hahahah what a joke! They
who know nothing about the world or themselves believe that know everything.