May 17, 2007

Al Hurra Is Not Propaganda, They Say

Apparently it's not propaganda if we say so with a straight face.

Never mind who's signing the checks.

Or maybe the fact that we have no idea what is actually being said on our station gets us some deniability.

The first President George Bush created TV Martí, to beam American programming into Fidel Castro's Cuba, though Mr. Castro managed to jam it for years so people in Cuba could not actually see it.

(United States-financed Middle East television channel) Al Hurra was supposed to follow that tradition. But the station's executives admitted Wednesday that they could not be completely sure that Al Hurra was doing so, because none of the top executives speak Arabic.

"How do you know that they're being true to the mission if you don't know what's being said?" Mr. Ackerman demanded.

Joaquin F. Blaya, a Hurra executive, testified that network officials made sure to question the Arabic-speaking staff about what went on the air. Mr. Blaya and State Department officials acknowledged that the speech by the Hezbollah leader, Sheik Nasrallah, violated the network’s policy not to give a platform to those whom Washington considers to be terrorists.

But Mr. Blaya also contended in an interview on Wednesday that Al Hurra would lose all credibility if it did not give air time to people who disagree with American policy. He said that complaints about air time for Mr. Haniya were unjustified because he legitimately holds the post of Palestinian prime minister.

Mr. Blaya also said it was ironic that the government was seeking to promote American values like democracy and a free press while at the same time trying to censure what is shown in the station.

"That's the difference between a free media and propaganda," he said.

He said during the hearing that Al Hurra had appointed a new vice president for news, Larry Register, to make sure the mistakes did not happen again. But he admitted that Mr. Register did not speak Arabic either.

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