» This Story:Read +|Watch +|Talk +| Comments
» This Story:Read +|Watch +|Talk +| Comments
Page 3 of 4   <       >

U.S. Network Falters in Mideast Mission

Video
Al-Hurra, an Arabic-language television network financed by the U.S. government, attracts a far smaller audience than its chief competitors, al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya. Video by washingtonpost.comEditor's Note: An earlier version of this video included incorrect footage.

Network News

X Profile
View More Activity

Arab journalists and viewers say al-Hurra has a basic problem: It is boring. Investigative pieces are rare, and critics say the channel generally doesn't make waves.

This Story
View All Items in This Story
View Only Top Items in This Story
This Story
View All Items in This Story
View Only Top Items in This Story

Salameh Nematt, a Jordanian journalist based in Washington, said that al-Hurra, like many of its competitors, has ignored controversial issues such as financial corruption involving Arab leaders and the use of torture by security forces.

"Al-Hurra would have been the number one station in the Arab world had they done one-quarter of what they should have covered," Nematt said. "People say if it's an American station, nobody will watch it. That's crap. If it's an American station that does a good job, everybody will watch it."

A String of Missteps

Al-Hurra's founding father was Norman J. Pattiz, a Democrat on the Broadcasting Board of Governors who helped persuade Congress to fund the station. The chairman of Westwood One, a leading distributor of radio programming, Pattiz assembled the team to build al-Hurra.

He recruited Bert Kleinman, a former Westwood One official whose radio career included producing "American Top 40 With Casey Kasem" and "The History of Rock and Roll." He also hired Farrell Meisel, a television executive with experience in Asian and European broadcasting.

"We had a very short timetable, almost unheard-of," Meisel recalled. "And we had to compete in the most challenging television footprint in the world."

None of the team members spoke Arabic. For that, they relied on Mouafac Harb, a Lebanese journalist hired as al-Hurra's first news director.

According to former al-Hurra staffers, Harb filled the newsroom with Lebanese employees, many of whom had thin journalistic credentials. Anchors spoke in heavy Lebanese dialects, turning off viewers from other countries. On-air reporting errors were common.

"He hired his friends -- this was the problem -- and they didn't have any experience," said Magdi Khalil, a former producer who clashed with Harb. "I told him, 'We need to improve the quality.' He said, 'No, no -- we need to fill the air.' He had no idea what being a news station means."

In a telephone interview from Beirut, Harb said it wasn't easy to persuade leading Arab journalists to come to Washington to work for a station funded by the U.S. government. He denied that his anchors and news-show hosts spoke in dialects but acknowledged that the staff was top-heavy with Lebanese.

Harb resigned in 2006. He said he left, in part, because Pattiz had stepped down, but also because he sensed the Broadcasting Board of Governors wanted al-Hurra to promote U.S. foreign policy instead of just reporting the news. He said the station has since become more cautious. "There is a tendency to please Washington and not the audience," he said. "It looks like C-SPAN in Arabic -- who cares?"

Other former al-Hurra staffers said Harb was encouraged to leave. His replacement as news director, Larry Register, a veteran producer and Middle East correspondent for CNN, said the board of governors gave him a clear mission: to overhaul editorial operations and impose basic standards.


<          3        >

» This Story:Read +|Watch +|Talk +| Comments
» This Story:Read +|Watch +|Talk +| Comments

More Middle East Coverage

America at War

America at War

Full coverage of U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Line of Separation

Line of Separation

A detailed look at Israel's barrier to separate it from the West Bank.

facebook

Connect Online

Share and comment on Post world news on Facebook and Twitter.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company

Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity