US-backed Alhurra TV relaunches amid new Iran sanctions

Since its launch in 2004 Alhurra has attracted notoriety over allegations that it is a US government mouthpiece. (Supplied)
Updated 06 November 2018

US-backed Alhurra TV relaunches amid new Iran sanctions

  • Media exec Nart Bouran says television still ‘very important’ due to Arab world’s connectivity issues
  • Bouran said relaunch will clear up any misconception about Alhurra and what it stands for

DUBAI: The US-backed Alhurra TV channel relaunched its news outlets on Sunday ahead of the Trump administration reimposing key sanctions on Iran.
The channel — part of umbrella corporation Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN) — is no stranger to controversy, with previous claims that it is a mouthpiece for the US government.
Yet a senior Alhurra executive said the relaunched network — which comes as the Trump administration looks to gain support for its harder line on Tehran — will not shy away from reporting the pressing issues affecting the Middle East.
“We will not be holding back on the things that we believe need to be discussed very openly — for example, terrorism, the involvement and interference of Iranian forces and their proxy in the region,” Nart Bouran, senior vice president of news, programming and transformation at MBN, told Arab News.
Alhurra, which first launched in 2004 as a counter voice to a perceived anti-US media bias among some Middle East networks, attracted notoriety in the region over allegations it is a US propaganda machine, partly because it is indirectly funded by Congress through the US Agency for Global Media, an independent federal agency.
This was also highlighted by Alhurra’s coverage of the Iraq Abu Ghraib prison-torture scandal under then-US President George Bush’s tenure in mid-2004.
Alhurra, which is Arabic for “the free one,” was the first Arabic news channel to air an interview in which Bush apologized to the Arab world, with many in the Middle East seeing that as a confirmation that the channel has a US government agenda.
The US-backed channel only broadcasts in the Middle East and North Africa, and not in the US where it is headquartered. Yet Bush’s decision to issue his first apology via Alhurra was unpopular with many US citizens — as well as many in the Arab world.

Bouran, however, said the relaunch will clear up any “misconception” about Alhurra and what it stands for.

“I think you’ll notice that when it comes to the US policy, there are voices that speak for and against and all voices are present on our screen,” Bouran said. “Alhurra can take the opportunity to make ourselves present proper media or journalistic values that others might claim (but) we will actually implement.”
The relaunch includes the opening of new studios at Dubai Media City; Alhurra also has a bureau in Baghdad, where it operates Alhurra Iraq, and it hopes to boost its presence across the Arab world, and especially in Saudi Arabia.
“We’re hoping that we can also be present in Saudi Arabia soon because we believe it’s very important to be there and be able to cover Saudi Arabia properly,” Bouran said.
The decision to go for studios in Dubai and not another Arab country is due to logistics, Bouran explained, saying that it is about “getting in touch with guests who want to appear on screen and early on in the day to have a full 24-hour news service.”
However, when asked whether the channel has editorial agreements with the governments of the countries it operates in, Bouran responded by saying: “No, the simple answer is no.”

Nart Bouran: Senior VP of News, Programming and Transformation at MBN

Alhurra operates in a media landscape that it vastly different to when it launched in 2004, with its audience now relying heavily on digital and social media platforms as primary sources of news.
“Nobody argues that (social media is not) very important but you also have to remember all the viewers, and not everyone is going to get into social media; there’s a connectivity issue for a lot of countries in the Arab world,” Bouran said.
He also explained that Alhurra is taking a “holistic approach,” with a large number of platforms, including digital and social media and linear TV, carrying its content.
Although the market is already saturated — with Arabic heavyweight channels such as Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya, BBC Arabic, CNN Arabic and Qatari-owned Al Jazeera already dominating screens — Bouran said the relaunch is “timely” and that there is a “strong and prominent” role Alhurra can play.


Facebook Journalism Project and ICFJ launch fund to support Lebanon’s news industry

Updated 13 August 2020

Facebook Journalism Project and ICFJ launch fund to support Lebanon’s news industry

  • The new program will support local media outlets

The Facebook Journalism Project, in collaboration with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), has announced that it will invest $300,000 in a program that aims to support the stabilization and recovery needs of journalists and news organizations in Lebanon affected by the Beirut explosion.

The new program called “Supporting Beirut: Response and Recovery Fund” will assist in supporting local media outlets that have suffered damage to infrastructure and resources.

ICFJ and Facebook will award $150,000 in emergency relief funds to Beirut-based news organizations and journalists directly impacted by the blast and in need of urgent financial support.

The first phase of this program will involve identifying Lebanese news organizations and journalists who require financial support. These journalists and news organizations will then be able to apply for immediate emergency relief grants. ICFJ will award grants to select Beirut-based news organizations and journalists who meet a set criteria.

“Our hearts go out to the people of Lebanon and everyone affected by this immeasurable tragedy,” said Mohamed Omar, news partnerships manager, Middle East and North Africa, at Facebook. “We’ve been getting regular updates from our contacts in Beirut; the damage to the city’s infrastructure, including its many newsrooms, is enormous. In spite of these devastating circumstances, the news industry is working hard, under extraordinary conditions, to keep people informed and updated,” he said.

“We applaud their efforts and are continuously working with our partners to both understand their needs and support them the best we can,” he added.

ICFJ, a non-profit organization focused on raising the quality of journalism worldwide, will mobilize its local networks to implement a two-phase response and recovery initiative for the Beirut crisis.

Sharon Moshavi, ICFJ’s senior vice president for new initiatives, said: “People turn to local journalists for critical information on how to keep their friends, families and communities safe. As the impact of the devastating explosion continues to unfold in Beirut, ICFJ is prepared to work with the Facebook Journalism Project to provide tailored support to Lebanese journalists and news organizations that are providing critical information to a nation in crisis.”

The Facebook Journalism Project and ICFJ will offer additional, deeper support to select Beirut-based news organizations during phase two, depending on the longer-term impacts of the crisis.

Earlier this week, Facebook announced that it would donate more than $2.1 million to local hospitals, medical institutions and NGOs to support relief and recovery efforts, $1 million of which has been matched by its community as part of a Facebook fundraiser.