Operation Broadcast Freedom
On February 14, 2004, the United States launched a commercial-free Arabic television channel, Alhurra ("The Free One"). Funded by the U.S. Congress with a $62 million appropriation, and governed by a bipartisan board like its cousins Radio Sawa and Hi Magazine, the 24-hour outfit is Washington’s latest move in the quest for Arab hearts and ...
On February 14, 2004, the United States launched a commercial-free Arabic television channel, Alhurra ("The Free One"). Funded by the U.S. Congress with a $62 million appropriation, and governed by a bipartisan board like its cousins Radio Sawa and Hi Magazine, the 24-hour outfit is Washington’s latest move in the quest for Arab hearts and minds. FP sat down with director of news Mouafac Harb, a Beirut-born Muslim, in early March. What follows are excerpts from the conversation.
FOREIGN POLICY: Does your station exist to blow the trumpet of democracy in the Arab world?
Mouafac Harb: Yes, sir.
FP: Do you think Al Jazeera fuels anti-Americanism?
MH: Yes. The question is — are they doing it intentionally or not? If you measure Arab public opinion before Al Jazeera and after Al Jazeera, you will discover that anti-Americanism has risen. Is that the direct impact of Al Jazeera? It’s debatable, but I think Arab media in general helps increase anti-Americanism.
FP: Will your channel broadcast video of Osama bin Laden and other senior al Qaeda operatives?
MH: If it is newsworthy, yes.
FP: What is your station’s official term for "suicide bombers"?
MH: Journalists don’t give opinions. We report the news and we describe the event. If a Palestinian guy blows himself up in a car, I will say it exactly the way I’m saying it right now: I will say a Palestinian guy blew himself up.
FP: What do you call the barrier that Israel is building in the West Bank?
MH: We call it the way we see it. In certain parts [where] it looks like a wall, we call it a wall. If it looks like a fence, we call it a fence.
FP: How many viewers do you expect to have in a year’s time?
MH: Ah, it’s so difficult, but we hope within a year we can be among the top channels that people rely on to obtain information.
FP: The Arab population in Europe is substantial. Will you broadcast there?
MH: We hope so. It’s a funding issue. When we get the funding…
FP: How do you measure success?
MH: I measure success by whether people rely on our channel to obtain information that they trust. I can’t think of any other way of describing success. How does this translate into helping America? I believe we have a good chance at winning people’s hearts and minds if they respect us.