A New Look to Arab News

By Muafac Harb

There is something very important to be said about competition, especially within the media. With the onslaught of cable and satellite networks in the United States, Americans can easily watch a news story on four or five different channels, to ensure they get a balanced and accurate idea of what is going on in the world and filter through any biases, whether real or imagined.

That is essentially the idea behind Alhurra (Arabic for "Free One"), the latest Arabic-language news and information channel to come to the Middle East: to present factual and accurate reporting to viewers in the 22 Arab countries we reach, thereby providing them with a fresh perspective of the news that affects them. Once people have a better understanding of the world around them, they become part of the global debate. Headquartered outside of Washington, DC, Alhurra supplies context and background to the headlines, with bureaus throughout the Middle East. In the short time we have been on the air, we have covered a variety of topics, from human rights to political upheaval; Alhurra has been there for every major event in the region. We are also the most technologically advanced television station to date, which allows us the opportunity to bring news reports from all over the world and give viewers a global perspective.

It is incredible to work in this state of the art newsroom, but the heart and soul of Alhurra is the staff. A majority of the journalists that have joined Alhurra have moved to the United States from the Middle East, many leaving their homes and families to have the opportunity to report the news without government influence. There is a camaraderie among the staff here and around the world. We know we can make a difference, but only if we inform and engage our viewers.

We are not like the typical news channels, because we entertain as well as enlighten. In addition to its nightly hour-long newscasts and round-the-clock news updates, Alhurra offers audiences hard-hitting talk shows and roundtable discussions, such as "Free Hour" and "All Directions," providing fresh perspectives of the headlines with the newsmakers of the day. Viewers can also watch international award-winning documentaries, as well as programs on fitness, technology, fashion, entertainment news and sports.

As anyone in the region knows, the Arab press went out of its way to denounce Alhurra before it even launched. There was a theme in all of the Arab media articles that Alhurra would just reiterate US government propaganda, but that could not be further from the truth. Our mandate and mission, issued by the US government, is to report accurately, even if this results in criticizing the current administration. This is a new concept to many state-funded Arab media outlets that take direction from their own government entities. It is not surprising they attacked us from the onset; we represented everything they are trying to suppress. If we were not a threat, why would they even comment about us?

The media reaction to Alhurra has also brought about debate, as the more moderate journalists in the region ask why there were such harsh attacks. Alhurra has made the media in the Middle East turn a critical lens onto itself. Although this was not the immediate goal when Alhurra was launched, it is consistent with this undertaking, to bring forth a fresh perspective of the news.

However, the attention that has been brought to the channel by the Arab media has also brought in viewers. We have received numerous emails from the Middle East, thanking us for Alhurra and praising our objective reporting. This brings us back to the original mission of Alhurra, to provide Arabic-speaking viewers an alternative to the traditional news reports they have endured.

Alhurra is not on the air to say something is right or wrong; that is not the job of a journalist. We are here to give audiences another viewpoint, and whether they use Alhurra as their sole source of news or in combination with others, we have accomplished our goal. We are competitors of Al Jazeera and Al Arabia, and any media outlet that reports to the Middle East for that matter. With a new kid in the sandbox, you are bound to stir up a little dust. TBS


Muafac Harb is director of network news at Alhurra and Radio Sawa. This article is taken from bitter-lemons international, an on-line publication (April 22, 2004 Edition 15 Volume 2).
Copyright 2004 Transnational Broadcasting Studies
TBS is published by the
Adham Center for Television Journalism, the American University in Cairo
E-mail: TBS@aucegypt.edu