CBS News and Pro Publica “distorted facts” in a collaborative investigative story that aired Sunday about Alhurra TV, according to officials from an independent federal agency that supervises all U.S. government-supported, non-military international broadcasting.
The story, which aired on “60 Minutes,” said Alhurra suffers from a “credibility crisis,” features programming that “supported terrorism and denied the Holocaust” and with an annual $100 million budget, provides American taxpayers with “a wild ride.”
(Full disclosure: Before The Washington Times established its conflict-of-interest policy, a small number of reporters accepted payments from Alhurra TV for their appearances on the U.S. government-sponsored network. New ethics rules implemented earlier this month at The Times bar staffers from accepting such payments.)
Launched in 2004, Alhurra broadcasts 24-hour news and cultural programming in Arabic via satellite throughout the Middle East and is part of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) stable, which includes the Voice of America and six other broadcast outlets.
CBS ultimately concluded, “Alhurra had a conflict at its core: the U.S. government was all for free speech as long as it was in line with U.S. policy.”
In a rebuttal, the BBG said the TV report took liberties with facts about the station’s audience research, its coverage of Israel and its editorial practices.
“‘60 Minutes’ unfairly portrayed Alhurra, which is watched by 26 million Arabic speakers in the Middle East each week,” said James K. Glassman, who until recently was the chairman of BBG and now is undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.
“Independent research tells us that Alhurra is relevant to people who value its balanced news and information about the region and about the United States,” he said.
The program ignored Nielsen ratings and “gave credence to less relevant opinion polls,” he said, adding that CBS’s claims that Alhurra has a pattern of “anti-Israel rhetoric” are based on the comments of a single Palestinian talk-show guest.
“While Alhurra, unlike some other Arabic-language networks, seeks a tone of moderation in all broadcasts, we cannot control every word said in a live program,” said Jeffrey Trimble, executive director of the BBG. “If we tried to [control], we certainly would not be a model of free press in the democratic tradition. Our aim, in daily debates such as this one, is to show different sides of an issue, even if we don’t agree with them.”
CBS also was provided with the results of a positive independent review of Alhurra by the State Department, “but regrettably chose not to include it in their story,” the BBG said in its rebuttal.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, called for an investigation of Alhurra by the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
CBS is not backing down. “We stand by our story as broadcast Sunday night,” said CBS News spokesman Kevin Tedesco.
Pro Publica, a nonprofit news organization, also offered its own story on Alhurra published online Sunday.
While the BBG rebuttal did not directly address that story, Richard Tofel, general manager of Pro Publica, did not give the statement high marks.
“We see nothing in this statement that reflects that the ‘60 Minutes’ story was unfair or inaccurate,” he said.
The Washington Post independently ran a front-page investigation about Alhurra on Monday; the BBG drafted a letter of protest for that story, too, said spokeswoman Letitia King.
“We read today’s coverage of Alhurra with disappointment,” she said.