and discussion are at the cornerstone of any democracy. There
have been many changes throughout the Middle East in the past
year with the elections in Iraq, Palestine, and Saudi Arabia,
as well as the demonstrations in Lebanon and the Mubarak Initiative.
As the political landscape of the Middle East changes, so must
the media that covers it. The media should report on these stories
objectively and accurately, and provide expert analysis, so that
viewers can make their own informed decisions about the changes
affecting the region.
In this respect, Alhurra television could not have been launched
at a better time. Alhurra attempts to provide a forum for the
ideas and issues to be discussed and its anchors and producers
work hard on reporting without bias. With a television network
like Alhurra, Arabic-speaking people living in all parts of the
region can see first hand the changes taking place in their own
region. Through straight-forward reporting and discussion, viewers
can make their own informed decisions about the issues affecting
A perfect example of the importance of media, and the role of
Alhurra, took place during the Iraqi elections. The outcome of
the election was not as important as the fact that Iraqis were
able to decide on their own leadership, but Iraqi citizens needed
information to help wade through all of the issues and candidates.
Leading up to the elections, Alhurra and the second channel dedicated
to Iraq, Alhurra-Iraq, provided comprehensive coverage of concerns
on the minds of voters. Through a series of public service announcements
on Alhurra-Iraq, Iraqi citizens were encouraged to vote. Alhurra
provided all of the candidates an opportunity to state their position
on issues, and talk shows were dedicated to discussing the political
platforms of the candidates and voters' questions. Alhurra also
broadcast a historical debate among the candidates which I was
able to watch and report about to the Western media.
It has been just over a year since the launch of Alhurra television.
A lot was made in the press about the channel before it even went
on the air: that it was going to be propaganda, or that its goal
was to make Arabic-speakers like the US and US policies. However,
research done by ACNielsen and Ipsos-Stat, as well as feedback
from the region, shows that Alhurra has overcome these perceptions
and made its mark as a source of news and information. Basically,
it has slowly emerged as the voice of the voiceless in the region.
It is watched by those who reject the propaganda of the ideological
media and the dictatorship-controlled channels.
The most recent surveys conducted by Ipsos-Stat show that 34 percent
of adults having satellite households watch Alhurra on a weekly
basis. The same surveys showed that 61 percent of Alhurra viewers
found the news to be reliable. These are impressive numbers by
anyone's standards, but even more remarkable when you take into
account the fact that the network was launched just over a year
Alhurra's impact on the region is much more than these numbers
would indicate. In its short time on the air, Alhurra has gained
its footing in covering news, often being at the forefront of
a news story or a debate. Whether Alhurra broadcast live in Martyr's
Square during the Lebanese demonstrations or inside voting stations
throughout Iraq, it was able to report, analyze, and bring viewers
an inside look at the news affecting them.
Alhurra's talk shows also have had an impact. They have fueled
debate on issues such as human rights, democracy, and the role
of women -- topics that were not often discussed outside of the
home and certainly not to millions of people on a television network.
When the Syrian Authors Union decided to boycott Alhurra earlier
this year, Web sites were full of people discussing the pros and
cons of this decision. Alhurra has found their niche by producing
and broadcasting programs and town hall meetings that debate everything
from the humanitarian crisis in Sudan to the role of women in
the political process.
Obviously, Alhurra has a lot of progress yet to make, and naturally
changes are needed to adapt the channel to the challenges ahead.
It is an experiment, but compared to the media propaganda the
peoples of the region were under, it is a successful experiment.
After a year, Alhurra may not have the viewership of Al Jazeera
or Al-Arabiya, but it is undeniably an alternate source of news
and information for the Middle East and a catalyst for freedom
and democracy. It will be interesting to see what the next couple
of years bring to Alhurra and the region.
is a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies
in Washington and a professor of Middle East Studies at Florida
Atlantic University. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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