U.S. Needs a Coordinated Global Outreach Strategy

U.S. Needs a Coordinated Global Outreach Strategy

Promoting America in the Muslim world is surely a good idea. Launching a TV station devoted to that purpose? That would seem to be a good idea, too. In practice, however, the station, founded in early 2004, has struggled from the outset to dispel the notion that it is a U.S. propaganda outlet -- a tough task, given that it is financed by the U.S. Congress. Calling it "Alhurra," which translates into Arabic as "the free one" -- not such a good idea. When taxpayers foot the bill, "free" is at best a metaphor. And for some among its audience the name conveys the better-than-thou attitude that has often given American public diplomacy a bad name. Recoiled one offended Middle Eastern journalist: "They are claiming that they are the only 'free' network, and the rest are not free -- and I take great offense to that, because I think I am doing a professional job and I think they are not as free as I am, maybe." Maybe, maybe not, but the hubris implicit in the station's name was an ominous omen from its start.

And sure enough, it got worse: In recent months, Alhurra has aired a lengthy live broadcast of Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hasan Nasrallah, a live interview with Hamas leader Ismail Haniya, and another with an al-Qaida operative. All very, very bad ideas. As NPR reported on May 13, "some lawmakers who funded [the station] are calling for the resignation of the station's news director," Larry Register, whom they accuse of having "given voice to terrorists." But maybe he is not to blame -- perhaps the content of the interviews just didn't, shall we say, register. A very bad pun, but none intended: After all, he doesn't actually speak Arabic.

In that regard, Register is hardly alone, to put it mildly. According to a report just released by the Government Accountability Office, "30 percent of language-designated public diplomacy positions [in the Muslim world] are filled by officers without the level of language proficiency required for their positions, thus hampering their ability to engage with foreign publics." This refers only to language-designated positions; never mind positions that are not so designated but would greatly benefit from knowledge of the local language, not to mention culture.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.

More World Politics Review