- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2005

Broadcasting public diplomacy

Normally, I don’t quibble with editorials that praise U.S. international broadcasting initiatives such as Al Hurra television, as yours did on Wednesday with the wonderful headline “Keeping Al Jazeera in check.”

However, I couldn’t leave unanswered the criticism of Radio Sawa: “The lack of genuine discussions of U.S. policy, in particular, has hamstrung Radio Sawa’s public-diplomacy efforts.”

This description hardly reflects reality. The amount and types of policy discussions, accurate news coverage, public affairs programming and even intellectual debates broadcast on Radio Sawa are unprecedented for the Middle East. Also, in a region of the world where people regularly boycott American products, Radio Sawa’s high listenership rate — and overwhelming acceptance of its news as reliable and credible — is extraordinary.

More than an important and proud element of U.S. public diplomacy, Radio Sawa is indeed a critical part of today’s global war on terror. Yes, Radio Sawa is creating a “portrait of a land of freedom” — just as Voice of America and Radio Free Europe did during the Cold War.

KENNETH Y. TOMLINSON

Chairman

Broadcasting Board of Governors

Washington

Regretfully, the editorial “Keeping Al Jazeera in check” (Wednesday) perpetuates false information about the first and, until now, only completely uncensored satellite television channel originating from the Arab world.

The statement that Al Jazeera is state-controlled is untrue. Al Jazeera continues to receive subsidies only because certain neighboring states have made it clear that they will ban any company advertising on Al Jazeera. Almost all objective non-Arab observers agree with the perception in the Arab world that Al Jazeera is a completely independent source of news.

Al Jazeera does not hesitate to run all the news, no matter how unpopular in anti-American as well as pro-American quarters. For example, Arabs frequently attack Al Jazeera for running numerous interviews with Israeli officials, and, recently, for carrying sympathetic news reports about Israeli settlers abandoning Gaza. Arab governments express outrage on an almost daily basis because Al Jazeera interviews pro-democracy Arab dissidents. Al Jazeera, frankly, offends radicals in the Middle East as often as it offends American politicians.

The editorial critique of the weaknesses in Radio Sawa and Al Hurra are more on-point. American media does great entertainment; unfortunately, Arab audiences prefer to hear uncensored news and not the official pronouncements of governments that own the media outlets.

PATRICK N. THEROS

Former U.S. ambassador to Qatar

Washington

The Wednesday editorial “Keeping Al Jazeera in check,” concerning the efforts of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, its Al Hurra television broadcasts to the Middle East and Al Jazeera television, sheds some light on an irreconcilable paradox.

On the one hand, the BBG presents research that claims it has millions of viewers for its Al Hurra television broadcasts and that the number of viewers is increasing.

On the other hand, as the editorial correctly points out, “the net effect of Al Hurra’s coverage has yet to be effectively measured. To take a lesson from another BBG outlet, Radio Sawa, a commanding market share does not necessarily mean good public diplomacy,” as Karen Hughes discovered during her recent trip to the Middle East.

The question the BBG should have its pollsters ask is whether Al Hurra’s audience has changed its opinions about the United States. Like it or not, this is the core issue. It also should be pointed out that the research on which the BBG relies is commissioned and paid for by the BBG and that the BBG is the sole client for this research.

The BBG, as part of the public-diplomacy apparatus of the United States government, should want to know if its programs are effective to its core mission or if the BBG is merely indulging in pet projects.

The BBG’s broadcast operations are supported through public funds. The American public is entitled to have its tax dollars spent effectively, particularly in this case, in which the broadcasts of Al Hurra and Radio Sawa are supposed to change opinions in the Middle East — opinions that are decidedly anti-American.

From a public-diplomacy standpoint, Al Hurra and Radio Sawa are not working effectively.

The BBG should examine why Al Jazeera and other regional broadcasters are effective and successful. Part of the answer seems to be that they are able to tap into the volatile and raw emotions of the Arab and Muslim public, which perceives U.S. policy in the region to be anti-Arab and anti-Muslim, and that the U.S. military power is wielded indiscriminantly. Providing almost nothing but fluff entertainment is not getting the job done.

Whether we agree with this point of view or not, we should be concerned that the BBG’s broadcasts to the Middle East have not benefited U.S. public diplomacy and have left popular sentiment against the United States further hardened.

GARY MARCO

President

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1418

Alexandria

TIM SHAMBLE

President

American Federation of Government Employees Local 1812

Sterling, Va.

The long-awaited trial of Saddam Hussein

The long-awaited legal proceeding against Saddam Hussein (“Saddam rejects ‘so-called court’ ” Page 1, yesterday) is in many respects a reprise of the Nuremberg trials of the mid-to-late 1940s, in which prominent Nazis were rounded up and held responsible for their unspeakable criminal acts.

In Nuremberg, as in Iraq today, an assemblage of beasts faced an array of colossal charges, including crimes against humanity. Some of the defendants sought to deny their involvement as cogs in the ghastly Nazi killing machine; some challenged the jurisdiction of the court; others sought to justify what cannot ever be justified. The eyes of the world were on Nuremberg, as people wondered whether those who participated would be convicted of their crimes and, if so, what fate would await them.

At Nuremberg, death sentences were imposed and carried out swiftly against the worst of the worst, as society rightfully demanded. There were no stays of execution, no lengthy appeals, no instances of condemned prisoners spending decades on death row, as our perverted system of justice permits. There were no organized protests to contend that capital punishment was inhumane, no candle-toting defenders outside German prisons pleading for the lives of those who had set aside any shred of humanity they ever had possessed.

As the Nuremberg trials proceeded, so may we fervently hope that the trial, conviction and carrying out of capital punishment progresses against Saddam Hussein, one of society’s most notorious and ruthless dictators. May the countless persons whose lives he shattered, shredded and destroyed find some solace and peace in the carrying out of justice.

OREN M. SPIEGLER

Upper Saint Clair, Pa.

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