BBG Reviews its Operations in the Middle East

Chairman Shell speaking at board table

Chairman Jeff Shell leads the February 25 meeting at MBN. (MBN – Ali Mahdi)

WASHINGTON – The Broadcasting Board of Governors focused its meeting today on perceptions of the United States throughout the Middle East and took an in-depth look at the activities and accomplishments of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks.

The four-hour meeting at MBN’s headquarters examined the impact of U.S. international media in the region, including the operations of Radio Sawa and Alhurra Television, which marked its 10th Anniversary this month.

“I’d like to congratulate the men and women of Alhurra on their tremendous work over the past ten years,” BBG Chairman Jeff Shell said while touring the newsroom prior to the meeting. “Despite challenging reporting environments, they provide reliable, accurate and objective news to the people of the Middle East with an unmatched quality.”

In other BBG business, Chairman Shell announced that Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty President and CEO Kevin Klose will be stepping down as of March 1.

“I want to thank Kevin for the amazing work he has done at RFE/RL,” Shell noted. “He came at a very difficult time for the network, but under his leadership it is now in a much better place. He has built a terrific team there.”

The meeting opened with a discussion of the difficult and risky environments in which many BBG journalists work. Shell mentioned attacks on RFE/RL journalists Dmytro Barkar and Ihor Iskhakov in Ukraine, with whom Governor Matt Armstrong had visited during a January trip to Kyiv. Shell decried the ongoing smear campaign against RFE/RL reporter Khadija Ismayilova, harassment of VOA stringer Austere Malivika, attempted intimidation in Russia and in China, and increasing press restrictions in Cambodia, Burma and China. And he repeated the Board’s call for any information that could lead to information about Alhurra reporter Bashar Fahmi, who has been missing in Syria since August 2012.

Ambassador Ryan Crocker, moderated a discussion  Hisham Melhem, Washington Bureau Chief for Al Arabiya News and Abderrahim Foukara, Washington Bureau for Al-Jazeera International.

Ambassador Ryan Crocker (l), moderated a discussion with Abderrahim Foukara (c) and Hisham Melhem (r).

Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who led the U.S. embassies in Iraq and Afghanistan before joining the BBG, then moderated a discussion on perceptions of the United States throughout the Middle East with panelists Hisham Melhem, Washington Bureau Chief for Al Arabiya News and Abderrahim Foukara, Washington Bureau for Al-Jazeera International. They discussed the role and perception of U.S. culture, policies and information in the Arabic-speaking world, and considered how U.S. international media can continue to remain engaged, relevant and connected to audiences in the Middle East and North Africa.

“Broadcasting has a very, very important role to play,” said Foukara. “Whether it is to explain to Americans what is going on in the Middle East, or to explain the United States to the Middle East.”
Melhem added there is a need to explain the complexity of the U.S. “Many people [in the region] don’t understand the United States’ society. We [Arab journalists] cover Washington, but we don’t really cover the U.S.”

The Board then devoted 90 minutes to a “deep-dive” session focused on MBN. MBN President Brian Conniff and senior editors, producers and correspondents presented highlights of the network’s multimedia activities, its programming and distribution and its effectiveness.

Videos of the meeting are posted here for on demand viewing.

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