Does Anyone know about the Alhurra Network? About Radio Sawa? Most will be shocked to learn that little known Alhurra costs American tax papers, including many American Israelis up to $100,000,000.00 (one hundred million dollars) a year, or more! What is this U.S. government-funded operation’s mission? It is “to broadcast accurate, timely and relevant news and information about the region, the world and the United States to a broad, Arabic-speaking audience.” Sounds good, that is, until you ask questions that go below the surface. Broadcasting from Alhurra began February, 2004. The objective was to counter media campaigns terrorists use by accurate news reporting and analysis as well as to explain U.S. policies.
Alhurra is sponsored by the United States government and supported by United States tax dollars, so why are broadcasts not translated into English in order to share it with the American public? After all who is paying the bills? I wish this were a fairytale, but unfortunately, it is not. Alhurra is real and operates out of state-of-the-art studios right in the heart of Jerusalem. Yet, neither Israelis nor Americans know much about it. I saw the operation with my own eyes. American tax-payers gift their hard-earned dollars to Alhurra. But, ten years after her birth, Alhurra is still not available to the English-speaking world. Why? Alhurra is regulated by a law that prohibits a government-funded news service dedicated to providing news to a foreign audience from broadcasting to the domestic audience of the United States. This type of news service falls under the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the BBG.
The Smith-Mundt Act regulations were eased by the recent passage of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act. However the BBG still insists that it is only allowed to create programs for foreign audiences. The BBG “does not seek to change that.” Why? What are they sending out to foreign audiences that Americans and Israelis might not like? There is very little oversight over Alhurra’s reporters and commentators. There is no requirement for management to speak or understand the Arabic language. Brian Conniff is the president of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Inc., and MBN is the governing body for Alhurra. Yet Conniff does not speak Arabic and cannot understand any of the news and programs put out by Radio Sawa and Alhurra TV. To top it off, he has no journalistic experience. None! Nadda! His previous job was that of a government auditor. A pro Publica investigator reported that Conniff once stood outside the door of an editorial meeting while the technical staff and reporters prepared for a broadcast halfway around the world. He could not understand what they were saying and no one offered a simultaneous translation.
Furthermore, a news director, Daniel Nassif, grew up in Lebanon and came to his position with no previous background in TV. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn’t it? Then there’s the confusing funding structure of Alhurra and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Inc. MBN is the non-profit corporation that operates Alhurra. The BBG, the Broadcasting Board of Governors finances the Middle East Broadcasting Networks through a grant. The BBG is an independent federal agency that serves as a firewall to protect the professional independence and integrity of the broadcasters. U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, is one of six members of the BBG. But there should be nine members, but three positions are vacant. Alhurra TV, Radio Sawa, the MBN and the BBG look like they comprise one big and very confusing circle and, indeed, they do.
According to a former U.S. Ambassador in Yemen and the United Arab Emirates William Rugh, “There is no adult supervision there (at Alhurra) by people who know what is on the actual broadcast. You need bilingual managers who understand both languages and cultures and understand journalism.” Alhurra and Sawa have been impervious to reform, in part because the Arabic-language broadcasts are beamed only overseas. No one translates full broadcasts into English. Therefore it is impossible for non-Arabic speakers to know what’s going on air. Who is responsible for the oversight of the content? After all shouldn’t a U.S. funded, Arabic-speaking network be accountable for what they send out? Some horrific mistakes have been made.
For example, Iran’s full conference of Holocaust deniers was broadcast. Also, a call to arms against Israelis by a senior figure of Hezbollah lasting 68 minutes was aired as was a factually flawed piece on a splinter group of Orthodox Jews opposing the State of Israel. What must U.S. allies think and feel when they hear these provocative broadcasts? English translations must be archived in the U.S. We need to know what is going out on our dollar! No exceptions! Full financial accountability must be achieved. There appears to be little or no accountability under the present structure. What is the Obama administration allowing to be broadcast all over the Middle East? We cannot know without broadcasts in English. Taxpayers must demand to know. Is Alhura TV and Radio Sawa worth the cost? Does it provide any value to us, or does it harm our allies and therefore ultimately harm Americans? Demand answers. Demand accountability. Begin with the members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.