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An American Matchmaker in the Arab World - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The Al Hurra satellite TV station, or the American matchmaker as I like to call it, has enjoyed no success in matchmaking the Arab mentality and American culture. The Arabs have proved that there is no accounting for taste and that they are totally free to marry their own beliefs. However some of them [Arabs] insist on the bachelorhood of their own minds, even if world cultures are filled with old maids. Al Hurra’s failure to attract large regular audiences prompted US writer and academic James Zogby to describe the TV station as a bad idea and a failed enterprise.

Zogby is amazed at the fact that the US Senate and Congress are adamant on financing the station by allocating it 112 million dollars during 2010, a step that raised the cost of the entire project – which originally kicked off in 2004 – to 650 million dollars. Furthermore, Zogby suspected the truth of the statements made by Al Hurra TV station claiming that it holds 9 percent of the overall viewing rates and pointed out that the actual figure does not exceed 2 percent.

Zogby’s words reminded me of the excessive propaganda that preceded the launch of the TV station a few years back. It was said that the station would serve “as a beacon of light in a media market dominated by sensationalism and distortion.” I remember how I admired the expression “beacon” especially that many of the “beacons” in our extensive Arab media have no light.

But due to the promotional campaigns that hyped up Al Hurra television station before it was launched, some Arabs hoped that this station might broadcast an air of freedom while others feared the Americanization of the Arab mentality. However, Al Hurra disappointed both sides. The Arabs did not trade in their headscarves for cowboy hats nor did the station transmit an air of freedom. Consequently, Al Hurra failed to acquire the status of the Al Jazeera network or enjoy the success of Al Arabiya.

It goes without saying that Al Hurra’s humble start came as a surprise to everyone; a surprise that complicated the idea of improvement later on, despite that there were a number of attempts. When the audience initially – out of curiosity – switched on the TV station that vowed to “change the face of the Arab media in the Middle East, and establish golden rules for media work that others lack,” they found nothing that would make people continue to watch. So they returned to the way they were.

If we look at Al Hurra TV’s situation today, we will find that it is still miles away from achieving the objectives for which it was originally launched and that it had failed to rise to the status of media mouthpiece for the world’s superpower. A 2 percent viewing rate might satisfy an individual investor or a group of investors in the media field, but it definitely will not please a large pragmatic country that has spent over half a billion dollars without reaping any benefits in return!

Muhammad Diyab

Muhammad Diyab

Muhammad Diyab is a well-known Saudi writer and journalist.

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