Last week, Victoria Coates was fired from her job as head of the US State Department-funded Middle East Broadcasting Network (MBN) by the administration of US President Joe Biden, a role she had barely held two months.
Coates’ firing brings the long-troubled network to its third president in just over three years.
Former diplomat Alberto Fernandez took over from long-time head Brian Conniff in 2017 until June 2020, and was replaced with Kelley Sullivan until Coates’ arrival in December.
The revolving doors of the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM), Voice of America and MBN’s top offices goes to show just how politically influenced the self-proclaimed objective and independent media enterprise, and MBN’s channels Alhurra, Alhurra-Iraq and Radio Sawa, really are.
What started off as the go-to network for aspiring journalists wanting to escape the political influence that dominated most newsrooms in the Arab world, slowly turned into just another such place.
Former Alhurra reporters spoke to Arab News anonymously about the heavy self-censorship the channels were subjected to by their reporters and producers regarding news that showed the US in a bad light.
They also spoke of the heavy pro-Israeli rhetoric that dominated their airwaves, despite their newsrooms being filled with Arab journalists — mostly from Lebanon and Palestine.
One reporter, who worked at the channel for over 12 years, notes that they were not even allowed to use the term “Nakba” on air — catastrophe in Arabic — which refers to the mass migration of Palestinians in 1948 following the Israeli occupation for fear it would frustrate its main funder, the US Congress.
Ironically though, with notable oversight into what was being aired, many of the program’s producers would insert their own views into the programming. Alhurra’s Iraq bureau would tailor content in favor of Iran-backed political parties that many of its staffers are members of.
MBN, whose news and radio channels Alhurra and Radio Sawa are Arabic for “The Free One” and “Together” respectively, was first unveiled by the Bush administration in 2004 to offer objective news free from political influence, and to improve the image of the US in the Arab world.
According to the network’s website, its mission is “to provide objective, accurate, and relevant news and information to the people of the Middle East about the region, the US and the world.”
However, the network has been consistently and continuously scrutinized for not upholding the standards former US President George W. Bush promised when he said the network would “cut through the barriers of hateful propaganda” found within the Middle East’s media landscape.
Alhurra attracted notoriety in the region over allegations of being a US mouthpiece, partly due to the fact that it is indirectly funded by Congress through the USAGM, which is an independent federal agency and MBN’s parent company.
“I have been following Alhurra’s channels for a few years now covering the Arab world and especially Syria. In my view, despite being based in the US where media is free and independent, they clearly reflect the opposite to Arab audiences, showing an explicit agenda bias to the US interest,” Syria-based journalist Ahmad Al-Hoare told Arab News, adding that “to a large extent, I believe that Alhurra networks are like any other government affiliated TV, radio or newspaper.”
Source: Arab News