Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, Chairman
Broadcasting Board of Governors
Subcommittee on International Operations and Terrorism
Committee on Foreign Relations
April 29, 2004
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, we greatly appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to talk about the efforts of the Broadcasting Board of Governors to communicate with the people in the Islamic world. I am joined by fellow board member Norman Pattiz, the father of Radio Sawa and an irrepressible force for international broadcasting, and by Mouafac Harb, the News Director for the Middle East Television Network. Together we hope to give you a full picture of the BBG’s efforts to assist the war on terrorism, and become a continuously available source of news for the people of the Middle East.
As this Committee well knows, the BBG has greatly expanded its reach and broadcast hours to the Islamic world in the past three years. There has been literally an enormous increase in the availability of U.S.-sponsored news and information on radio and television to this region. Radio Sawa, Radio Farda, VOA-TV’s Persian programming, and now the Middle East Television Network (MTN) are relative newcomers on the scene, but are making a big impact.
On February 14 of this year, with the enthusiastic support of President Bush and key leaders of the Administration and Congress, the BBG launched its new Arabic-language television network called “Alhurra” (“The Free One” in Arabic). Even before this station went on the air, it was heavily criticized in the Arab world as a propaganda arm of the U.S. Government. It has been called a “voice of the CIA” whose aim is to “brainwash Arabs” and described as part of “a long-term plan to dominate the minds and ideas of Iraqis and Arabs”. But Alhurra is none of these things. Its mission is that of all U.S. international broadcasting – to promote and sustain freedom and democracy by broadcasting accurate and objective news and information about the United States and the world.
Through its adherence to Western journalistic standards, through its objective, accurate reporting, Alhurra can gain the credibility we need to build an audience and offer Middle Eastern audiences a new balanced view of world events. While criticism in the Arab press continues, we are connecting with the people – our target audience – and they are sending us hundreds of e-mails to welcome us. ”You are much needed to balance biased news controlled by those full of hatred to western world,” reads one. ”This is the first step to fight the ‘hate culture’ that feeds terrorism,” says another. ”I hope your channel [will help] our Arab brothers . . . to tell the truth from all that is going on.”
In a little more than four months, the BBG established a state-of-the-art broadcast facility in Northern Virginia to house Alhurra. Since October some 900,000 feet of cable have been installed in this facility. But what is truly extraordinary is the sea of Middle Eastern faces – newsmen and newswomen – enthusiastically working to make this network a successful model of journalistic standards. Many of these individuals are well known media figures in the Middle East and gave up promising careers overseas to practice journalism with MTN.
President Bush spoke of “open debate” and “truth” when he described what this network can mean to the people of the Middle East. The network will challenge the voices of hate and repression with truth and the voices of tolerance and moderation. Viewers will witness free and open discussions, not just about conflict in the Middle East, but also about subjects critical to that region’s future – economic development, human rights and respect for minorities.