To the People

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Al-Hurra Is Arabic For Sinkhole

You may not be aware of this but the U.S. government funds a CNN-style cable news channel, Al-Hurra, for the Arab world as a counterweight to Al-Jazeera. The point is to provide a 24-hour news outlet with a pro-western, pro-democracy spin. Unfortunately, that isn't cheap. The Washington Post reports today that $350 million has been spent on it so far.

Still, were reaching Arab hearts and minds right? Well, maybe not:
Independent surveys indicate that al-Hurra attracts a far smaller audience than its chief competitors, al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya. In a public opinion poll of six Arab countries released in March by the University of Maryland and Zogby International, 54 percent of those surveyed said they watched al-Jazeera most often for international news, compared with 9 percent for al-Arabiya. Al-Hurra got 2 percent, tied with al-Manar -- Hezbollah's satellite propaganda channel.

Al-Hurra executives said their goal is not necessarily to outdraw those networks, but to offer a credible alternative news source. "We're not saying we're winning the race," said Bruce Sherman, director of strategic planning for the Broadcasting Board of Governors. "What we're saying is we have a horse in the race."

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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.

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