- The Washington Times - Friday, June 8, 2007

In recent months, the U.S.-backed Arabic television network Al Hurra has come under justifiable fire for a very troubling editorial transformation. No taxpayer-financed broadcaster should give the microphone to terrorists and radical Islamists the way Al Hurra has. Congress is threatening to withhold millions in funding, as it should, unless Al Hurra rights the ship.

Al Hurra is supposed to be a cornerstone of United States public diplomacy in the Middle East. In recent months, though, since a new editorial leadership took over, it has aired interviews with members of Al Qaeda and Hamas as well as a speech by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, among other radical Islamists and anti-Semites. These guests are lobbed softball questions or allowed to spew propaganda at length. As one Iraqi lawmaker told Joel Mowbray, the reporter who broke this story: “Until now, we were so happy with Al-Hurra. It was taking a stand against corruption, for human rights, and for peace. But not anymore.”

Congressional investigators, journalists and some of the architects of the original Al Hurra are asking hard questions. It stands to reason that broadcasting in a Middle Eastern political context will require at least some controversial content. But it is not as if Al Hurra is some covert program. It is openly U.S.-backed. Accordingly, Al Hurra cannot be a counterweight to the propagandistic Al Jazeera and Hezbollah’s Al Manar when it airs at great length coverage of blatantly anti-American or anti-Israeli political figures — coverage which is comparable to what one sees on those other networks sympathetic to those agendas.

The next move is Al Hurra‘s. The coming weeks are an opportunity to put its affairs back in order. It should start by firing the editorial regime responsible for these untoward broadcasts. It should make clear that balanced coverage sits atop the agenda. This means treating hostile viewpoints with skepticism when such views are aired. Otherwise, there is no point in this U.S. taxpayer-funded enterprise. Viewers can simply tune in to Al Jazeera.