by Summer Said
A heated debate
rages within public diplomacy circles over who is watching Alhurra
and how the channel is perceived by Arab audiences. Polls commissioned
by Alhurra indicate much higher viewership numbers and credibility
ratings than those reported in independent surveys conducted
by academics and Arab research organizations. In an effort to
shed some light on the numbers controversy, TBS correspondent
Summer Said hit the "Arab street" in Egypt,
the Arab world's most populous country and, according to a 2004
Zogby International poll, one of the most anti-American publics
in the Arab world, with unfavorable views of America calculated
at 98 percent. Roaming the streets of Cairo for one week in
April 2005, Said queried pedestrians, shopkeepers, commuters,
professionals, and students to find out who is watching Alhurra
and what people have to say about the US-funded satellite channel's
efforts in its first year on the air. Here are the results of
TBS's own -- entirely unscientific -- survey:
The channel is not
as bad as I and my friends expected at the beginning. Just forget
the fact that it is funded by the US and it will be fine. At
the end of the day a person has to see a variety of channels
even if there were broadcast by what we call enemies. As for
me I'm only interested in shows about body fitness and health
so I watch Alhurra because they air some good shows in that
area. These programs are in Arabic so I do not have to read
subtitles while following the show.
Ahmad Al Saadi, 21, law student
I did not think I
would be watching Alhurra until one day when I was checking
what was on TV and saw them interviewing some high profile Egyptians.
The program was Sa'a Hurra (Free Hour), a live show that
once hosted Ayman Nour, the chairman of (Egyptian opposition)
Al Ghad Party. At least you would not find a similar show on
the state-owned TV that is being watched by millions of people.
Khaled Al Araby, 34, Arabic teacher
It is unbelievable
that this channel is American. It cannot be compared even to
the worst American channels that I receive. I cannot see how
come the US does not even care to please the Arabs with something
professional. Do they think we can be pleased by anything? It
is a kind of insult to us.
Walid Hamed, 32, accountant
I watch Alhurra but
I feel that there is something strange about it. I wonder how
come the US is financing this channel and still the services
it offers are not that great. Sometimes I feel that the announcers
are not professional at all and they speak classical Arabic
with difficulty. I also feel that their news bulletins are filtered
so that they would not offend the Arab viewers. And if you forget
about the news you feel that their other programs are boring
and they are of no interest to you. I do not know why it is
still operating till now.
Noha Muhammad, 26, journalist
I checked it out
twice and it was so boring. I do not have much time to waste
so I watch good channels like Al Jazeera or Al Arabiya.
Zaki Assem, 17, high school student
Alhurra is a nice
break from Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya and what they air everyday.
Its news bulletins are not perfect but they also cover great
parts of the world. It also gives you one hour of news if you
have time to sit and watch and a 10-minute news if you are just
interested in headlines. I think people at Alhurra are doing
well for a channel that just kicked off last year.
Sarah Siri, 29, dentist
Why would I watch
something that everyone says is bad? It reminds me of our local
channels. It has unqualified announcers, boring programs, and
bad news coverage.
Wafaa Abdel Maqsoud, 27, engineer
I think it is a good
channel but the criticism it got before its launch put off so
many people. I have seen many of my friends who thought it was
very bad even without watching it for ten minutes. I think they
have some good talk shows and their news services are quite
balanced. Arab channels should be awake because I feel that
this channel has its strength and it could become more important
in the future if the US gave more attention to the staff and
the quality of the programs aired.
Jacqueline Girgis, 29, unemployed
Yes I do watch a
couple of shows on Alhurra. One is Free Debate, which
is a talk show and the other is Masters of Cinema, which
is actually my favorite. Of course if we compare Alhurra with
Al Arabiya, Al Jazeera, or CNN, Alhurra will lose but sometimes
you want some change and you want to check out something different.
I think the channel's performance is getting better and the
people working there have potential.
Amin Al Mahdi, 43, doctor
I do not watch Alhurra
at the moment because I think they still need more time to become
professional. They also have to come up with new ideas and interesting
shows because no one will watch the channel unless it gives
them something exceptional and this has not happened so far.
Hind Muhammad, 24, receptionist
I do not have a subscription
to Discovery Channel to watch good documentaries so I'm glad
that there is an Arabic channel like Alhurra that is giving
me that chance everyday. The channel has some interesting documentaries
and some science shows for those who are looking for something
new everyday. Last month, for instance, I saw a very good show
on the Pharaonic kings, their courts, and their costumes and
makeup. There was another documentary about wild life in Australia
that I also enjoyed. I guess your interests affect how you view
Ashraf Omar, 20, science student
Alhurra has good
debate shows but I think that the channel has failed in its
main mission, which is "beautifying America's ugly face"
in the eyes millions of Arabs and Muslims. The way I perceive
the US is still the same and has not changed at all. I could
enjoy some of the programs on Alhurra but that would not do
any good for the US. I think that the American administration
was stupid to launch this channel because they thought it will
make us love them. If that was true we would have forgotten
all the ugly actions of the US because they make excellent movies.
Name withheld, 22
I do watch Alhurra,
but I do that with suspicions. I feel that the US is trying
to brainwash the Arabs so I often compare their news reporting
to the other reporting by channels like BBC, Al Jazeera or Al
Arabiya. But I have to admit that most of the time, their reporting
is professional and they do not fabricate stories. But I only
watch Alhurra just to see if they do mistakes or not, just out
Sherif Meghawri, 21, political science student
I'm sorry, I have
not heard about it before.
Amm Sayyed, 56, shop keeper
What I like about
Alhurra is that every day they have different programs than
the day before. One day they have a cooking show, and on another
they air a documentary or a cinema show. My favorite show is
a travel program called Luxury Travel that takes you
on a tour through a country or a city and gives you all the
information about it. This program in particular, unlike the
other travel shows I have seen on the Arab stations, gives you
a new picture of the cities and the most up-to-date information
Noura Sami, 18, high school student
If you pay attention
to the news programs Alhurra shows you will find that they concentrate
on Israeli and American statements, especially those by George
W. Bush. They choose stuff that justifies the war on Iraq and
the violations against the Iraqis and Palestinians. I have been
following the other non-political shows and they are all silly
and lifeless or rather boring and ridiculous. The US had better
save its money and shut down the whole station.
Dina Salem, 34, supermarket owner
I like the talk shows
on Alhurra. They are not too long, interesting, discuss hot
topics and feature people that are not the mouthpieces of the
I cannot stand watching
it because it is boring and lifeless and you feel it is a bad
imitation of the CNN or BBC. If I were in the shoes of the US
administration I would shut this thing down before it becomes
Dina Sami, 20, student
I do not see what
is wrong with Alhurra. It has good shows, decent news coverage,
and quite professional stuff. We criticize the channel just
because it is funded by the US and also because we are used
to criticizing everything that is different from what we have.
I and many of my friends think that the people working in the
channel are trying to achieve something very efficient and eventually
they will succeed because they are trying.
Ahmed Usama, 32, accountant
Yes, I have heard
some people talking about, but have not got a chance to check
it out yet.
Suhail Ahmad, 32, unemployed
We have too many
channels these days and I cannot remember coming across this
I do not watch it
and I do not recommend people to watch it. It is a station that
was created by the US to brainwash the Arabs and convince them
of the evil plans of the US. For me watching Alhurra is like
watching an Israeli channel. It is something that should not
be done and I think the Arab governments should do something
to ban this channel.
Safieddin Muhammad, 21, English literature student
is a freelance journalist based in Cairo. She writes for Arab
News, Middle East Times, the Lebanese Daily Star,
and Cairo Magazine, among others.
[printer friendly version]