|Type||Satellite television network|
|Country||United States (external consumption only)|
|Availability||22 countries and territories across the Middle East and north Africa (includes: Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen)|
|Owner||Middle East Broadcasting Networks
(Funded by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees all U.S. government-funded foreign broadcasts)
|Launch date||February 14, 2004|
Alhurra (Arabic: الحرة al-Ḥurrah [alˈħurra],[note 1] "the Free One") is a United States-based Arabic-language satellite TV channel that broadcasts news and current affairs programming to audiences in the Middle East and North Africa.
Its stated mission is to provide "objective, accurate and relevant news and information" to its audience while seeking to "support democratic values" and "expand the spectrum of ideas, opinions, and perspectives" available in the region's media. The station has also tried to distinguish itself from its numerous regional competitors by claiming to provide more in-depth coverage of U.S. issues and policies and coverage of a broader range of opinions and perspectives not normally heard on other Arab television networks.
Alhurra began broadcasting on February 14, 2004 to 22 countries across the Middle East and North Africa. It has established itself as the third highest-rated pan-Arab news channel, surpassing viewership ratings for the BBC (English and Arabic), France 24 Arabic, RTV Arabic, CCTV, CNNi,and Sky Arabia.
In April 2004, an additional channel called Alhurra-Iraq was launched, featuring most of the Alhurra content, with additional programming specifically directed at the Iraqi audience. It is also broadcast on satellite and is available on terrestrial antaenas through Iraq, including in Basra, and Baghdad. Alhurra-Iraq consistently achieves higher ratings in Iraq than both Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya.
Organization and funding
Alhurra is operated by the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN). The MBN is a non-profit organization financed through a grant from the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), an independent federal agency funded by the U.S. Congress. The BBG oversees all U.S. public broadcasting outlets and is intended to act as a firewall to protect the editorial independence and professional integrity of the broadcasters.
Alhurra’s headquarters are in Springfield, Virginia. The station also maintains bureaus in Baghdad and Dubai, production centers in Beirut, Jerusalem, Cairo and Washington, D.C., as well as correspondents throughout the Middle East, North Africa, the United States and Europe.
The decision to launch Alhurra was prompted by frustration among U.S. government officials over perceived anti-American bias among the leading Arab television networks and the effect these channels were having on Arab public opinion regarding the U.S. Alhurra was intended to serve as an alternative to these channels by presenting the news in a more "balanced and objective" manner in an effort to improve the image of the United States in the Arab world.
The driving force behind the launch of Alhurra was Norman Pattiz, a media executive and founder and chairman of broadcast industry giant Westwood One. While serving as a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the U.S. federal agency that controls all foreign non-military radio and TV broadcasts, Pattiz advocated strongly for the creation of a U.S.-funded television network specifically directed at Arab audiences. Pattiz had also previously been responsible for the creation of Radio Sawa, a BBG-administered Arabic-language radio network which broadcast a mix of music, entertainment, and news. The idea to launch Alhurra stemmed from the success that Radio Sawa had exhibited in reaching young audiences in the Middle East.
Pattiz believed that Arab audiences' views of the United States were being negatively influenced by existing Arab news networks' focus on coverage of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He argued that by presenting a wider range of perspectives on these conflicts and other U.S. policies, as well as a coverage of a broader variety of regional and global issues of interest to Arab audiences, a U.S.-funded satellite TV channel could help improve America's image in the region.
In an appearance on CBS's 60 Minutes in May 2004, Pattiz described an influential promotional video he helped produce which led to the successful launch of Alhurra:
- "We showed the negative images that people get of the United States on Middle Eastern television," says Pattiz. "There was lots of anti-U.S. demonstrations -- burning the president in effigy, stomping on the American flag. We then said, 'And this is what you see from America.' And we had about 4 seconds of black screen."
As a result of Pattiz's efforts, the Bush administration requested funding for the station from Congress, and obtained $62 million in funding for its first year of operation (including start-up costs). In the fall of 2003, construction began to renovate an old TV station building in Springfield, VA into a modern broadcast facility for the new channel. Construction was completed less than six months later, and Alhurra's first broadcast aired February 14, 2004.
Alhurra broadcasts 24 hours a day and, like other BBG-run broadcasters, is commercial-free. In addition to reporting regional and international news, the channel provides information on a variety of subjects, including the rights of women, human rights, religious freedom, freedom of expression,health, entertainment news, sports, and science and technology. The network supplements its original programming with broadcasts of Arabic-subtitled versions of English-language programs familiar to U.S. (and global) audiences, such as PBS’s Frontline and NOVA, A&E’s Biography and Modern Marvels. In addition, the network reversions and repackages prominent American news and news magazine series, such as the PBS Newshour and CBS’ 60 Minutes into its own Arabic-language feature news programs.
Alhurra has over the years hosted a number of prominent politicians, journalists and intellectuals in one-on-one long format interviews. Guests have included many Heads of State, Supreme Court Justices, Foreign Ministers, National Security Advisors, Secretaries of State, Education, Commerce and many White House Officials from both parties. Many journailists have appeared on Alhurra including Tom Friedman, David Brooks, and other prominent politicos such as Mary Matalin, Jalal Talabani, Paul Volcker, John Bolton, Terry McAuliffe, Joe Lieberman, Susan Turnbull, Robert Zimmerman, Steve Murphy, David Corn, Peter Fenn, Michael Steele, Tony Coehlo, Alon Ben-Meir, and Eleanor Clift.
- Al Youm ("Today") — A three-hour live daily program that originates simultaneously from five countries in three continents including Dubai, Beirut, Cairo, Jerusalem and Alhurra’s headquarters in Springfield, Va. The program provides viewers with coverage of the latest news from the Middle East, the U.S. and around the world, as well as topics such as health, entertainment news, sports, technology, social and cultural issues. The program also includes interviews with politicians, athletes, business leaders, and artists.
- Dakhil 'Inside' Washington – A weekly program that examines American politics from the left, right and center. Guests include journalists of all stripes - from the New York Times to the Wall St. Journal, Mother Jones to Weekly Standard - White House officials, Congressmen, Supreme Court Justices and influential Washingtonians from across the social spectrum.
- Hunna ("Women’s Views") – An hour-long weekly program that brings together influential Arab women to discuss social and political issues that are sensitive in the region.
- Musawat ("Equality") – A weekly talk show that takes an in-depth look at the rights of women in the Gulf region of the Middle East.
- Hekayat Maa Akram Khuzam ("Stories with Akram Khuzam") – A weekly documentary series examining social and cultural issues in Arab countries such as unemployment, child labor, illiteracy, female circumcision and immigration to the West.
- Hadith Al-Khalij ("Gulf Talks") — A weekly talk show that examines important political, social and educational issues facing the Gulf.
- Amerikiyoun ("Americans") – Profiles of men and women who "embody the American spirit." This documentary series takes viewers inside the daily lives of Americans and examines their beliefs, struggles, and views about the future.
- Min Wall Street ("From Wall Street") – This weekly program features investment news and informs viewers of developments from financial markets around the world. It is the first business program that broadcasts in Arabic live from the New York Stock Exchange.
- FOCUS — A weekly series of in-depth feature reporting from around the world. Topics include science, politics, culture, business, and the arts. FOCUS news reports include highlights of stories from the archives of the U.S. "PBS NewsHour" program, translated into Arabic.
- Al-Majalla ("The Magazine") — Documentary program which focuses on American history to highlight topics that provide viewers insight into the diversity of American society. Al-Majalla covers a variety of subjects such as U.S. civil rights and Harlem Renaissance, architecture, extreme sports, arts and the lifestyles of Americans throughout the country, as well as stories of successful Arab Americans. The program highlights the importance of culture in overcoming differences and barriers.
- Alhurra Tukaddem ("Alhurra Presents") — A weekly hour-long interview program with prominent newsmakers from the Middle East.
- Ramia Hurra ("Sports Weekly") – A weekly program that highlights the week’s top sports news.
- I-TECH – A weekly technology news program that features the latest in computer and information technology, including interviews with experts in the field and updates from technology expos around the world.
Alhurra competes with more than 550 Arabic-language satellite TV channels for its audience in the Middle East, and as a result Alhurra initially struggled after its launch in 2004 to attract viewers in the already-crowded Arab media market. Annual surveys commissioned by the BBG showed that Alhurra's weekly audience grew by 28% between 2004 and 2008, surpassing 25 million. Recent surveys by international research organizations including ACNielsen show that Alhurra has consistently averaged approximately 26 million weekly viewers in its broadcast region from 2009-2011. While this number is dwarfed by the overall viewership of Qatar-funded channel Al-Jazeera and Saudi Arabia-funded Al-Arabiya, it is nevertheless greater than the viewership of all other non-indigenous Arabic-language news networks (including CNN Arabic, BBC Arabic and France24’s Arabic-language channel) combined.
A BBG-commissioned poll in February 2011 found that 25% of Egyptians living in Cairo and Alexandria tuned into Alhurra during the protests in that country in January 2011, surpassing al-Jazeera’s 22% viewership during the same period.
Although not a traditional viewership survey, University of Maryland/Zogby polls of several Arab nations (Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE) asked which stations viewers tuned into most often. Just 2% overall stated that Alhurra was the station they turned to most often in 2008, and that number dropped to 1% in 2009 (this poll added Egyptian respondents).
However, the channel’s popularity has shown some signs of improvement in recent years, particularly in Iraq, which has proven to be Alhurra's most successful market in the Arab world. A 2005 Ipsos poll found that just 14% of Iraqi respondents tuned into Alhurra (ranking 11th place). However, a 2008 Ipsos poll of Iraqi viewers found the network’s popularity had increased to 18%, overtaking Al-Jazeera (15%). This improvement could be due to Alhurra’s launch of Alhurra-Iraq, an Iraq-focused channel with programming tailored especially to the Iraqi audience. In its FY2010 budget submission, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) noted that the station’s viewership had improved to 5th place in the Iraqi market.
Threats to journalists
Alhurra journalists and correspondents have frequently faced threats, intimidation, and violence from both government and non-state actors opposed to their coverage.
Some notable incidents include:
- In August 2012, Syrian authorities reportedly injured and detained Alhurra reporter, Bashar Fahmy.
- In June 2011, Yemeni authorities attacked an Alhurra reporter and photographer who were covering a sit-in taking place in front of the Vice President’s house in Sana’a.
- In March 2011, Alhurra reporter Abdel Karim Al-Shaibani was assaulted and beaten by unknown assailants on a street in Sana’a, Yemen.
- In February 2011, Alhurra's Cairo bureau was targeted during the unrest in Egypt. Unknown armed men stormed its offices and "threatened to kill Al-Hurra's two on-air journalists--Akram Khuzam and Tarek El Shamy--if they didn't leave the building."
- Beginning February 2, 2011, Alhurra's satellite signal was jammed for nearly a month by Libyan authorities in response to coverage of anti-government protests in the country.
- In October 2010, Tahrir Kadhim Jawad, a freelance journalist and contributor to Alhurra, was killed when a bomb attached to his car exploded in Garma, Iraq, west of Baghdad in Anbar province.
- In May 2010, Mauritanian police beat several journalists and briefly detained Hachem Sidi Salem, a local correspondent for the satellite television station Alhurra, for covering a strike by members of the National Bar Association.
- In October 2008, Alhurra TV correspondent Saad Qusay was forced to request around-the-clock police protection at his home in Basra after being threatened by a militant group. The authorities subsequently advised Qusay to leave the country temporarily as an additional safety measure.
- In April 2008, Iraqi cameraman Mazin al-Tayar was shot in the leg as he filmed a military operation in Hayaniyah for Alhurra.
- In December 2006, Unidentified gunmen shot and wounded Omar Mohammad, an Alhurra correspondent, in Baghdad’s central Bab al-Sharqi area.
- In February 2005, Iraqi Alhurra correspondent Abdul-Hussein Khazal and his 3-year-old son were shot dead by unknown gunmen in Basra.
Controversy and criticism
|This section's factual accuracy may be compromised due to out-of-date information. (May 2012)|
The fact that Alhurra is funded by the U.S. Congress through the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) has led some critics to claim that the channel is "state propaganda" and presents its news with a pro-American bias. Alhurra has openly tried to distinguish itself from the perceived anti-American tone of its competition. Executives in the channel's early days instructed broadcasters to avoid the use of "loaded" terms (such as "martyr," "resistance fighters," or "occupation forces") used frequently on networks such as al-Jazeera in reporting about the U.S. military operation in Iraq, opting for terms like "armed groups" and "U.S. and coalition forces."
Alhurra is observed by Arab journalists as complying too scrupulously with embargoes on military information when Western media outlets frequently disregard these same requests. Steve Tatham, a British Royal Navy officer, recorded an instance in which a British officer briefed Arab and Western media that a humanitarian aid ship was being held back pending operations against Iraqi insurgents in the area. According to Tatham's account, when the officer asked the media to delay reporting this information for security reasons, Fox News disregarded the request whereas Alhurra complied.
Mouafac Harb, Alhurra's first news director who resigned from the organization in 2006, claimed that he left in part because he "sensed the Broadcasting Board of Governors wanted Alhurra to promote U.S. foreign policy instead of just reporting the news." Harb claimed that at Alhurra there had been a "tendency to please Washington and not the [Arab] audience."
Alhurra has also faced criticism from American conservative pundits who claimed that the organization had been broadcasting "anti-American" content. In 2007, conservative columnist Joel Mowbray wrote a series of harshly critical op-eds in the Wall Street Journal, claiming that Alhurra had become a "platform for terrorists.” Mowbray noted that Alhurra had broadcast live, unedited speeches by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, an interview with an alleged al-Qaeda operative who expressed joy at the 9/11 attacks, and a panel whose members offered conspiracy theories about alleged Israeli plans to destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
Mowbray also cited unnamed Alhurra staffers who accused news director Larry Register of "trying to pander to Arab sympathies" to make the station more like al-Jazeera. Register – who had been appointed as Mouafac Harb's successor with a charge to overhaul the station's operations and increase viewership – was forced to resign as a result of the public uproar created by Mowbray's articles.
A 2008 U.S. Inspector General’s office report noted that Alhurra has taken significant steps to tighten its procedures and policies in order to protect the credibility that is critical to fulfilling its mission.
Criticism of administration and oversight
A critical 60 Minutes and ProPublica report in 2008 stated that "there appeared to be little oversight of the daily operations" of Alhurra. The report criticized Alhurra's top executives and directors for either lacking Arabic-language proficiency or possessing a media background to ensure that the broadcasts met basic journalistic standards.
A 2010 report from the U.S. Inspector General's office noted that inspectors "heard consistent reports of poor communication in the news operation." The inspector's main criticism was of the station's news director Daniel Nassif, who was highlighted in reports of "newsroom management issues that were reported to the inspectors to have arisen during his tenure or remain unsettled from an earlier time." The hiring of several employee's relatives also led to accusations of nepotism. However, the same report also judged that MBN exercised tighter editorial controls over its programming and maintained the editorial principles for balance and comprehensiveness found in the International Broadcasting Act of 1994.
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- Alhurra on SourceWatch
- A longer Sourcewatch page filed under Al Hurra