Alhurra: A Threat to Whom?

By Hassan A. Barari

No sooner had the new US-funded Arabic-language satellite television channel Alhurra started broadcasting than Arab writers and columnists lashed out at Alhurra in an attempt to discredit the new "threat."

Their arguments against this channel as another arm of the American foreign policy in the region are not new. I am neither defending the new TV station nor advocating the reckless American foreign policy under the current administration. However, many of those who started the excoriating attack on Alhurra are themselves involved in the media industry in the Arab world and they have neither managed to be highly professional media nor have they offered at least constructive criticism. Their criticism of Alhurra rings hollow because it means backing the current Arab media.

Launching this campaign is ridiculous when we know that many of those writing against it do not really trust our media and, instead, derive their information and analysis from Western sources, such as the CNN, the BBC, The New York Times, and The Guardian. Some of them "boast" that they do not watch local TV stations. If this is true, why then launch this campaign? Do they think that they are protecting the masses against this new penetration? Do they really think that singling out this new station will help them survive in the globalized media world, let alone compete?

Perhaps, the message of democracy and human rights that Alhurra claims to promote is what threatens those who have a vested interest not to democratize. This TV channel is not going to penetrate the market because people are probably more immune and more progressive than the critical "elite." When Israel decided to broadcast in Arabic to penetrate the Arab collective mind, it failed badly. I cannot recall a campaign against Israeli media sources because the Israeli media were only interested in broadcasting what they thought would help their foreign policy and public relations. For this reason, it never managed to chalk up success in our region.

Why should we be afraid of Alhurra? No matter what the Americans are going to do, they will never manage to convince us that the United States is not favoring Israel or that it is not occupying an Arab country. Opinion polls conducted in different parts of the Arab world show that an overwhelming majority perceives the United States interests as being control of oil and the security of Israel. Nothing short of solving the Arab-Israeli conflict and transferring power to the Iraqis would alter the image of the United States or ameliorate the anti-American sentiments prevailing in our region.

When Alhurra claims that it will preach democracy and human rights, I hope that this is really what it will do, and if so, I cannot see any threat to the people watching it.

Instead of just incriminating Alhurra, there should be efforts to create professional and innovative media. Nothing else could convince the people not to watch Alhurra or other TV channels. If they fail to become professional, the time will come when Alhurra will outdo all Arab TV stations.

It is hoped that Alhurra will force modernity and professionalism on this part of the world. TBS

Hassan A. Barari is a researcher at the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan. This piece first appeared in a slightly different version in The Jordan Times of February 24, 2004.
Copyright 2004 Transnational Broadcasting Studies
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Adham Center for Television Journalism, the American University in Cairo