Culture, Global, Politics

Oh, that Arab Media…

Today Reuters reported the closing of the Baghdad office of UAE-based TV station Al-Arabiya, accusing it of inciting sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shias.

“We have noticed the clear intention of your channel in inciting sectarianism and promoting violence,” a statement from the cabinet of U.S.-backed Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said, adding the station’s Baghdad bureau would be closed for a month.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh, in remarks broadcast on state television, said: “Closing Al Arabiya for one month is a warning for the unprofessional conduct of their correspondents in covering events in Iraq.”

The article goes on to note that al-Jazeera remains barred from Iraq since 2004. And in April 2004, USA Today noted when publishing its poll gauging Iraqis’ reaction to the coalition forces:

Although most Iraqis watch the local, U.S.-sponsored broadcast television station, which doesn’t require a satellite dish, Iraqis in the poll say the Arab satellite networks are the most trusted and break the hottest stories.

The two main pan-Arab news sources now, the most trusted by Iraqis, are barred from Iraq with no branch office there. Now the average Iraqi has absolutely one source for his or her news.
US-sponsored, US-funded broadcasters such as Springfield, Virginia-based Al-Hurra, a division of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) like Voice of America.
I find it hard to believe that a government as US-controlled as Nouri al-Maliki’s fledgling Iraqi one is acting without some sort of American “go-ahead”. Especially considering that the US General Accounting Office just released a scathing report about al-Hurra’s market share:

“[W]e were unable to determine the accuracy of MBN’s [Middle East Broadcasting Network, parent agency of al-Hurra, division of the BBG] reported audience size and program credibility estimates due to weaknesses in MBN’s methodology and documentation.”

Apparently, when the BBG was reporting on how it was doing in getting the message out to the Arabic-speaking public, a.k.a. ratings, it did things like surveying only certain governorates of Jordan or samples corresponding to only 19% of the Egyptian public. The BBG produced rebuttal arguments, “defending the professionalism and quality of its audience research, comparing it favorably to other surveys (like Pew and Zogby)”.
The US spent $62 million in 2004 to create al-Hurra. As LA Times columnists Lieven and Chambers note, this leaves President Bush with a bit of egg on his face:

President Bush has requested a 13% spending increase for Al Hurra. Yet, according to a recent Zogby poll, only 1% of Arab viewers watch it as their first choice. Al Hurra claims 21.3 million viewers, but it will not publish the Nielsen survey that supposedly supports this figure…
Because these stations opposed and strongly criticized the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and have given prominence to negative stories about U.S. policies, they and the Arab media in general have been treated as enemies by the Bush administration, the U.S. media and many U.S. politicians.

The article goes on to note that al-Arabiya once lost its Baghdad office to a suicide bombing for criticizing terrorists.
It’s all about the ratings, it’s all about the propaganda. And make no mistake, just like with al-Hurra in Egypt, this is propaganda:

From the beginning, al-Hurra’s operation in Egypt was subject to the covert control of the security services, a fact that is not always apparent to those who oversee the station from Washington. The services have close ties to some of the station’s directors and handpick many correspondents. They even have final say over which guests appear on programs.

Al-Hurra has even been compared to the old Soviet Pravda and one Lebanese woman said, “I think it is aimed more at Christians” when asked what she thought of the station.
Now we’re going to make sure that our message gets through. As soon as American-controlled media came in, al-Jazeera had to leave. Now al-Arabiya has to leave. This is even more fair and balanced than FOX News!

One thought on “Oh, that Arab Media…

  1. I never really trusted Alarabiya, they always seemed relatively biased (compared to the BBC and Aljazeera and largely pro-Saudi to me.
    I suppose Aljazeera is as unbiased as Arabic media can get.
    Anyways, Alhurra, complete honesty, is the biggest Arabic TV flop I’ve witnessed. First everyone mentioned it as the TV version of Radio Sawa (VOA in Arabic), and then it got forgotten. That 21.3m viewers would probably be unrealistically optimistic, I would assume that number would more likely reflect Iqra or LBC or DreamTV.

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