American taxpayers are paying for an Arab television network that broadcasts anti-Israeli diatribe, according to a joint investigation by 60 Minutes and ProPublica, an independent, non-profit investigative journalism newsroom led by Paul Steiger, former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal.
The anti-Israeli content was aired despite the fact that Al Hurra management promised Congress nearly two years ago that they would take measures to prevent such mistakes, which had occurred repeatedly before. The joint investigation will be broadcast on 60 Minutes on Sunday.
The Virginia-based Al Hurra was created four years ago by the Bush Administration to counter what was seen as an anti-American bias at Arab satellite news channels like the Qatar-based Al Jazeera. Nearly half a billion dollars has been spent since its inception and its top executive, Brian Conniff, assured 60 minutes that things had improved editorially.
But 60 Minutes and ProPublica monitored the broadcast last month and found a Palestinian guest named Hani El-Masri on its flagship show "Free Hour" calling Israel a "racist" state that is conducting its own "Holocaust" against Palestinians. His exact quote, unchallenged by the host or balanced by another panel member, was "(Israel) is the occupying and racist state that imposes the stifling and deadly blockade and perpetrates a holocaust against 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza."
Conniff, who speaks no Arabic, said he was unaware of this and after looking into the matter said, "Any implication that Al Hurra is anti-Israeli is absolutely wrong." Asked if this latest example is part of a pattern, Conniff told 60 minutes reporter Scott Pelley, "No. There’s absolutely no pattern." He points out that the previous examples were discovered a year and a half ago.
At that time, members of Congress threatened to hold up funding because Al Hurra broadcast a live hour-long speech by Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah – whose group is considered by the US to be a terrorist organization.
A few weeks later, an Al Hurra reporter named Ahmed Amin delivered a biased report from the Holocaust Denier’s Conference in Tehran. He said that while some participants were sure that millions of Jews died in Germany, "the group did not reinforce their statements with scientific evidence, but instead they were content to tell stories passed on to them by their ancestors."
Soon afterward, irate members of Congress were assured that Ahmed Amin would be fired, but the investigating groups learned that 18 months later he was still on the US government payroll. He was fired only after 60 Minutes and ProPublica began inquiring.
Larry Register, the news director of Al Hurra who made the decisions to cover both the conference and Hizbullah speech, was forced to resign. He defended his decisions by saying he was trying to make Al Hurra more credible and relevant to people in the Middle East, and that the Nasrallah speech was big news, pointing out that every other Arab channel carried it live. "I considered it newsworthy," he said.
Jim Glassman, who until last week chaired the US government’s Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees Al Hurra, said in response to the findings, "We are not allowed to provide a platform for terrorists. We are required to provide balance and objectivity. Our idea with Al Hurra was to create a network to provide high quality, professional journalism with American standards. I think we’ve done that."
But there are many critics of Al Hurra, including US diplomats, who complain in internal documents about the poor quality and lack of professionalism of the Al Hurra broadcast, overseen much of the time by non-Arabic speaking directors. Register's response to this was that governments and journalism don’t mix. "You can’t make independent decisions if you have a government over you telling you what you can and can’t do. It’s a no-win situation, as I painfully found out," he remarked.