Relaunched Alhurra TV to challenge extremists, conspiracy theorists
WASHINGTON - The re-launch of the Arabic-language satellite channel Alhurra comes at a difficult time in the region, particularly with the rise of Qatari, Iranian and Muslim Brotherhood-backed media organizations, many of which have been strongly critical of Alhurra’s revitalization.
Former US diplomat Alberto Fernandez was appointed as head of the US-funded Middle East Broadcasting Network (MBN) in July and he is leading the largest shake-up of the media company since its launch in 2004, including the November 4 re-launch of Alhurra. MBN comprises a variety of television channels, radio stations, including Alhurra, Alhurra Iraq and Radio Sawa.
It is no wonder that many pro-Iran media outlets are so concerned by Alhurra’s re-launch, given Fernandez’s pledge to introduce innovative new programming while also tackling the wider regional situation.
In recent interviews with local media, Fernandez said Alhurra’s editorial line would look to expose the truth about Iran and its allies like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and the militias in Iraq and Yemen. “We will speak out about the nature of these organisations and warn people about what they represent,” he said.
“Iranian aggression is a huge issue. All of these political issues are priority issues for us… This is part of the larger struggle for dominance in the region by Iran, Turkey and other regimes trying to defend or carve out space for themselves,” he said in a recent interview with the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis (MECRA).
Fernandez has also spoken out recently against the Muslim Brotherhood, likening the group to a “gateway” to Islamist extremist that could ultimately lead impressionable young Muslim men to groups such as Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (ISIS).
In recent media comments, he said the Muslim Brotherhood group – which has been designated as a terrorist organisation in a number of Arab countries – seeks to “distort” the faith of Muslims “for partisan political purposes.”
According to Alhurra’s own mission statement, the channel aims to present news in an “accurate, objective and balanced” manner. It is perhaps this commitment that has spooked media competition to publish a storm of conspiracy theories about the Alhurra relaunch. Fernandez noted that pro-Hezbollah news outlets in Lebanon and pro-Iran news websites in Iraq have been leading the charge.
Most recently, news website alsawt – which is based in Qatar – published an article, based on various unnamed sources, claiming that the relaunch was being funded by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The article pointed to Fernandez’s role as a non-resident fellow at the Emirati TRENDS research and advisory think-tank, as well as his hiring veteran Jordanian journalist and former Sky News Arabia CEO Nart Bouran.
Fernandez scoffed at the allegations in a Facebook post, published by the Euroabia news website, defending Alhurra’s editorial impartiality.
“This article is being submitted by the pro-MB and pro-Iranian crowd and, of course, was written with the help of corrupt, disgruntled employees we fired. Hard to refute so much false information in one piece,” he said.
While speaking to MECRA, he decried the popularity of conspiracy theories in the Middle East. “Yes, that is the reality in the region. It’s all conspiracy, all the time, and that creates an environment of confusion and chaos,” he said. “
MBN is funded by the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM), an independent agency of the US government which also supervises Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Asia.
“There is a mandated firewall between US funded broadcasting and the US government, such that government should not unduly influence us,” Fernandez said. “Those are the rules.”
Bouran, for his part, has also been at pains to say that the relaunched Alhurra will not fall prey to accusations that it is serving any country’s agenda. A large reason that Alhurra failed to find purchase in the Middle East in the past was the view among many Arabs that it served Washington’s agenda.
In a recent interview with Arab News, Bouran said the relaunch aims to clear up any “misconception” about what the channel stands for.
“I think you’ll notice that when it comes to the US policy, there are voices that speak for and against and all voices are present on our screen. Alhurra can take the opportunity to make ourselves present proper media or journalistic values that others might claim (but) we will actually implement.”
This restructuring has seen Alhurra double its number of newscasts to 12 hours each day, as well as incorporate live broadcast from new studios outside of Washington D.C. and Dubai. There is also an all-new line of news anchors and news programs.
New programs include ‘The Talk is Syrian,’ a weekly show that looks at the ongoing situation in Syria; ‘Decision’s Capital,’ a weekly show analysing US foreign policy; ‘Forbidden,’ a weekly show that provides a platform for silenced intellectual moderate voices and ideas whose work is marginalized in Arab countries; and ‘Investigative Reports,’ a weekly show that aims to conduct deep investigative reports conducted by an all-new investigative news unit.
“The network now has a strong identity and can compete with the other pan-Arab networks in the region. The relaunch is just the first of many changes that will appear on Alhurra and we look forward to the coming months as we continue to improve the content and the on-air experience,” Fernandez said.