Sunday, December 27, 2009

Al Hurra - The Failed US-funded Arabic TV channel

America has been struggling with its image in the Middle East for decades but, after Iraq, Arab opinion plummeted. The Bush administration felt it had to act fast to explain America to the Arab world. So it began spending about $100 million a year on a U.S. government news channel in Arabic. It's called "Al Hurra," meaning "The Free One."
How will it be free when the station is funded by the USA! The Americans want their interests to be achieved. They will direct the kind of shows or ideas they want the Arabs to believe.

"Results from the largest public opinion poll in the Arab world indicate that Alhurra [1], the U.S.-funded Arab satellite station that has cost U.S. taxpayers more than half a billion dollars, is the least-watched station in the region and is losing viewers. The annual poll [2], by the University of Maryland and Zogby International, was conducted in Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Residents there were polled on a wide range of issues including their views of U.S. foreign policy, the American presidency and their media habits. The 2008 poll showed Alhurra with about a 2 percent audience share across the Muslim world's largest and most-influential countries. That share fell in this year's poll to 0.5 percent. Shibley Telhami [3], a leading Middle East expert at the University of Maryland and The Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., said Alhurra's rating was so low that for the first time, it fell below the poll's margin of error."

A $100m bad idea then, a $650m bad idea now

James Zogby

The US government-funded TV network Al Hurra was intended to be an important component of American efforts to win hearts and minds in the Arab world. It was a bad idea when it was launched in 2004. It has failed, and yet it won’t die.

This month the US Congress approved another $112 million to fund al Hurra in 2010, making the “bad idea’s” cost to date for American taxpayers more than $650 million.

A year before the network was launched, its founder came to see me to convince me of the value of his idea. I listened, but was not convinced.

While it was clear that the gentleman knew US media, it was equally clear that he did not know the Arab scene. The Arab world was not behind an “Iron Curtain” that denied people access to information from the outside world. While one could always point to the shortcomings of the hundreds of competing land-based and satellite networks and the subscription packages available to Arab viewers, what could not be denied was the wide diversity of programming they provided and their openness to a wide range of American news, sports and entertainment.

I had worked with three different Arab networks (MBC, ART, and now Abu Dhabi). All of them bought rights to programmes produced by US networks, and all frequently sought partnerships with US networks. Given this diversity and openness, setting up a competing US government effort was, I believed, an unnecessary expense to the American taxpayer.

I had two other concerns. The first was that there was no US version of the BBC, a respected international brand with a seasoned staff of professionals. The BBC would have an easier time launching an Arabic channel and having it accepted as a serious news operation: that is what it is known for and what it does well. The US, on the other hand, has no such organisation and would therefore be creating one “out of whole cloth”. And it would no doubt be seen as a propaganda effort – since that, quite simply, was what it was intended to be.

And then there was the problem of the brand. With the US government’s popularity ratings at all-time lows across the region, it should have been clear that a government propaganda arm would have trouble being respected as a legitimate news source. At the same time, with polling showing that “American television” and “the American people” were being viewed very favourably across the Arab world (as much as five times higher than “the US government”), it made no sense to establish a government-run network to compete with some of America’s own best products.

At one point I was called by staffers from the Senate committee that was holding hearings on launching and funding this “bad idea”. I said I would be delighted to give my views. A few days later I was contacted again to provide a preview of my take on this venture. I stated my case (the same arguments I have presented here) and suggested that instead of wasting $100 million a year, it might be better to create a fund to encourage public/private co-production arrangements between Arab and US networks and other opportunities for Arab network journalists to work with American counterparts; this would cost less and be of greater benefit. But the committee had already made up its mind to go forward with Al Hurra, and I was not asked to give evidence.

Six years later, the “bad idea” has been a failure and is widely recognised as such. And yet, because of the inertia that is so characteristic of government, it continues to be funded, with ever increasing appropriations each year and a staff that has grown from an initial 167 to more than 650.

While Al Hurra advocates claim that its viewership is as high as 9 per cent, polling shows it more likely to be a 2 per cent across the region. Its reputation has not improved, largely because the quality of its programming is not on a par with either US or Arab networks and Al Hurra has made poor personnel decisions: the head its of news operations is the former leader of a partisan right-wing Lebanese group and one of its featured weekly shows is hosted by a leading official in a pro-Israel think tank.

Bottom line: al Hurra remains a “bad idea” that failed, but it will be around for at least another year.

Dr James J Zogby is president of the Arab American Institute in Washington

Kalendar Baru

Telah jauh terlontar perjalanan
memerangkap saujana kepuasan
pilihan pun tidak menentu
ruang kosmopolitan turut membisu
warna-warna bertukar kelabu
imej-imej keras dan berbau
pun lambat sekilas detik hati
menggerak langkah kaki.

Akan berangkat perasaan
dari transit kehidupan
bersama jejak-jejak memori
membayang arca berdiri
rohani mahu terus berlari
mengejar seribu mimpi
seberat mengheret jasmani
kemanusian dalam diri.

Selamanya menatang waktu
dalam kepompong nafsu
bermain dengan prasangka
minda belum terbuka
setelah setiap resolusi
sekadar kalendar bertukar ganti
dan merangkai pasrah destini
di luar tawakal yang lali!

Dubai, UAE
27 Dis 2009

Malaysia - Ask For Wisdom From Chile!

While Malaysia seeks a 'back door entry' into a developed nation status by introducing GST (as claimed by its Finance Minister), Chile without '1Chile' hype and other 'wasting money' political slogans or 'ketuanan' agendas, Chile is on the way to becoming the first Latin American nation to move to "developed country" status from "developing country" status, especially in light of the recent invitation to join the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.

It has moved from a debtor nation to a creditor nation and its poverty rate is 14 percent compared with 45 percent in the 1980s.

In reality, what drove Chile to economic success were the free market policies that its leaders enacted in the late 1970s and 1980s. From 1984 to 1998 Chile's average annual rate of growth hit a historic 7 percent and today is running around 3 percent – all a big turnaround from negative 11 percent in 1975.

Chilean economy is "among the world's most open" – through aggressive, liberty-inspired approaches to government. Between 1975 and 1989 an ideological revolution of sorts took place in Chile. Former Chilean Minister of Social Security, Jose PiƱera, called the period a "radical, comprehensive, and sustained move toward economic and political freedom."

Chile in some ways has advanced liberty and free markets more so, in recent years, than the United States. In the CATO Institute's 2009 Economic Freedom of the World Annual Report, Chile ranked 5th, one spot ahead of the U.S. A number of successful free-market reforms led to Chile's success, among the more notable of which is Chile's privatized social security system, which gives citizens a choice and control over their personal retirement funds.

Other liberty-friendly reforms included privatization of various government-run entities, such as telecommunications, power, and water sectors; deregulation of industry; and the abandonment of price-control schemes that prevailed in Chile in the years leading up to the free-market revolution.

As the first Latin American country to be upgraded to the status of developed nation, it is critical to acknowledge the reasons for Chile's ascension: free market, limited government approaches. Failed socialist policies in Venezuela and Cuba are not helping bring freedom or economic prosperity to those countries. But liberty-minded approaches in Chile have done so for the Chilean people.

Ask For Wisdom From Chile!
Thursday 24 December 2009
By Ali Ibrahim

The news is Chile is about to join the club of rich nations, and it has been invited to join the Organization for Economic Co-operation Development [OECD] which brings together 30 affluent nations. Chile will be the first Latin American country to join this organization, and the first country to join in a generation, transforming Chile from a developing country into a developed country.

There have been many international successes during the seventies and eighties, particularly in Asia, with tiger economies such as South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore joining the list [of rich countries], and of course there is China which has become an economic superpower. However Latin America is a region that has been out of mind, this may be due to its geographical distance or its turbulent history, which some [people] are still bogged down by.

The question is; how did this happen?

For Chile is connected in one's mind wit tales of unrest and bloody violence such as the death of its socialist president [Salvador] Allende in the seventies during the height of the Cold War, as well as General [Augusto] Pinochet's coup which plunged the country into long years of dictatorship. Pinochet was pursued during the last days of his life whilst he was on his sickbed for ordering the death and torture of dissidents [whilst he was in power].

The figures speak for themselves, Chile is a medium-sized country with a population of 17 million, and its economy – according to published international statistics – is also medium-sized in line with its population.

Chile's Gross Domestic Product [GDP] stood at 169 billion dollars in 2008, and the country has purchasing power of 245 billion dollars, with an average GDP per capita of 15,000 dollars. Chile's exports amount to around 60 billion dollars a year. In 2008 the government budget was 44 billion dollars, with the country utilizing 35 billion dollars.

However what qualifies Chile to join the OECD is not just these [economic] figures, for there has been a genuine change in people's lives and standard of living in Chile and this is the real test of progress.

The percentage of citizens living below the poverty line has decreased from 45 percent during Pinochet's rule to 18 percent today, and Chile's annual growth rate was the highest in Latin America, particularly following the end of the Pinochet era and the emergence of a stable democracy governed by a coalition of [political] parties in the nineties. The middle class is expanding and there is a continual improvement in the standard of living, with unemployment rates today standing at less than 9 percent.

Chile's economic map reflects similar [economic] diversity as seen in developed countries, with the manufacturing industry contributing to more than 50 percent of the country's GDP, whilst a quarter of its workforce is employed in this sector. 13 percent of Chile's workforce is employed in the agricultural industry, and the rest work in the services industry.

The paradox is that despite the hateful practices of the infamous dictator General Pinochet which made him an international pariah threatened with [international] prosecution during his final days, he also instituted economic reforms that led to the current [economic] developments, including privatization and market freedom. Perhaps the most important lesson is that the public should not remain hostages of the past, but should [instead] look to and build for the future, building upon the useful practices of the past.

So from Latin America to the Arab world there is a question that requires answering; if there is a possibility of starting from anew and overcoming poor circumstances and dictatorship [like Chile], then what is the problem of this region [the Arab world] that is preceded by south-east Asia, and today countries from regions that have experienced unrest such as Chile in Latin America?