|13 February 2004
Launches Arabic Satellite Television Broadcasts Feb. 14 Alhurra
aims to deliver "accuracy" and "free
and open debate"
By David Shelby
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- The Alhurra satellite television station is set
to begin broadcasting Arabic language news and information programming
across the Middle East and North Africa February 14.
The station is scheduled to begin its first broadcast day at 10:00
am U.S. eastern standard time. The broadcast schedule will expand
progressively over the first month of operations to the point of
providing a round-the-clock news and information service by March
President Bush granted an exclusive interview to Alhurra journalists
for the launch. Excerpts of this interview will be carried on February
14 and the entire interview will be aired on February 15.
testimony February 10, Kenneth Tomlinson, chairman of the Broadcasting
Board of Governors (BBG), stated, "We
will challenge the voices of hate and repression with truth and
the voices of tolerance and moderation. The people will hear free
and open discussions not just about conflict in the Middle East,
but also about subjects critical to that region's future. We are
talking about economic development and human rights and respect
The BBG, a U.S. government financed company, has received a $62
million congressional appropriation to fund the establishment and
first year's operating costs for the Alhurra project.
The Alhurra project has been greeted with skepticism in much of
the Middle Eastern press where many local pundits maintain that
the station will be dismissed as government propaganda.
to such skepticism, Tomlinson said, "Our competitive
edge in the Middle East is our very dedication to truth and free
and open debate. And we will stand out like a beacon of light in
a media market dominated by sensationalism and distortion."
Tomlinson underscored the importance of the BBG's membership,
which includes professionals from various fields of communications
and print and broadcast journalism, for its ability to serve as
a firewall between the policymaking establishment and the journalists.
The BBG chairman
expressed his respect for government spokesmen who articulate
policy but stated, "International
broadcasting on the other hand is called upon to reflect the highest
standards of independent journalism as the best means of demonstrating
to international audiences that truth is on the side of democratic
He cited, in particular, the standards of professional journalistic
objectivity that the Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe
(RFE) maintained during the Watergate hearings in the 1970s as
an example of how a free and independent press organization can
and should function regardless of its ties to state funding.
"Over the years I have heard so many citizens of post-communist
countries tell how those broadcasts helped them understand the
real meaning of freedom and democracy," he said.
on to say that the United States must "reach
out to others in the world of Islam and beyond whose sources of
information about the U.S. and democracy have misled them and continue
to do so today."
In so doing,
he maintained, Alhurra can offer "accurate information
they need to compare their political, economic, and social system
to those that exist successfully elsewhere in the world. If they
can accurately assess their own leadership, if they can distinguish
between the truth and the propaganda of our enemies, the people
will have the tools that will lead to change."
the BBG's Middle East Committee Norman Pattiz stated in a February
release, "Alhurra will present fresh
perspectives for viewers in the Middle East that we believe will
create more cultural understanding and respect."
"A key part of our mission is to be an example of a free
press in the American tradition," Pattiz added. "We've
assembled a highly professional group of journalists, primarily
from the region, to provide the kind of news and information that
will resonate with our viewing audience and enable them to make
more insight into this point in a recent interview with the Washington
File, observing that there are a number of
issues in the Middle East that go unreported. While Alhurra will
cover all of the major issues of the day, he said, it would also
address "the host of other stories that people are concerned
He also affirmed
the station's commitment to a fair and balanced framing of the
saying, for example, that the station would "have
a debate between a radical Islamic figure and a moderate Muslim
and let people make up their own minds."
In a bid to
offer "real competition" in the Middle East
media market, Alhurra would present "accuracy -- news and
current events that are compelling, interesting to people's needs,
and meaningful," Tomlinson said.
the BBG's press release, prime time programming will include
in-depth newscasts, a nightly live talk show
called "Free Hour," and Arabic translations of documentary
and information programming from producers around the world.
Daily broadcasts will also include discussion programs, current
affairs magazines and features on a variety of subjects, including
health and personal fitness, entertainment, sports, fashion, and
science and technology.
Prime time schedules will be posted on the station's website,
www.alhurra.com. Currently the site is a simple informational page,
but BBG officials plan to develop it into an interactive website
as the station's programming and operations begin to function more
Alhurra will be broadcast over the Arabsat and Nilesat satellites.
It will also be available in the future over terrestrial transmission
systems in Iraq.