Al Hurra television, the U.S. government's $63 million-a-year effort at public diplomacy broadcasting in the Middle East, is run by executives and officials who cannot speak Arabic, according to a senior official who oversees the program.
That might explain why critics say the service has recently been caught broadcasting terrorist messages, including an hour-long tirade on the importance of anti-Jewish violence, among other questionable pieces.
Facing tough questions before a congressional panel last week, Broadcasting Board of Governors member Joaquin Blaya admitted none of the senior news managers at the network spoke Arabic when the terrorist messages made it onto the air courtesy of U.S. taxpayer funds. Nor did Blaya himself or any of the other officials at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees the network.
"How does it happen that the terrorists take over?" asked Rep. Gary L. Ackerman, D-N.Y., at a hearing last Wednesday of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee he chairs. "Is there no adult supervision?"
Blaya conceded that the top officials in the network's chain of command could not understand what was being said on al Hurra broadcasts.
Also, the network's news division also had no assignment desk, he said. That left decisions over al Hurra's content in the hands of its reporters and producers, who are, according to Blaya, hastily-hired Arabic-speaking journalists with insufficient understanding of Western journalistic practices or the network's pro-Western mission.
Blaya's comments were first reported by Congressional Quarterly.
It has never been al Hurra's policy to "provide an open, live microphone to terrorists," Blaya assured lawmakers. "It should not have happened."
The station's gaffes have included broadcasting in December 2006 a 68-minute call to arms against Israelis by a senior figure of the terrorist group Hezbollah; deferential coverage of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial conference; and a factually flawed piece on a splinter group of Orthodox Jews who oppose the state of Israel, according to the Wall Street Journal, which has reported the network's travails for months.
At the hearing, Blaya and other officials assured lawmakers that some of the staffers involved in the controversial broadcasts had been fired. They also said the network now has an assignment desk, staffed by Arabic-speaking editors. And the network's vice president of news has hired an Arabic speaker to help monitor its broadcasts and ensure the material is consistent with al Hurra's mission.