Saturday, 19 September 2009

Al-Hurra ... investigated ...again!


Pro-Publica, here

The State Department Inspector General has begun a comprehensive inspection of Alhurra, its sister station Radio Sawa and its parent company, the Middle East Broadcasting Network. Alhurra, set up under former President George W. Bush to broadcast an American perspective of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, was the subject of a joint investigation last year

The investigation and a series of ProPublica articles revealed serious staff problems, financial mismanagement and long-standing concerns inside the U.S. government and Congress regarding Alhurra's content. Those stories led to congressional inquiries in the House and Senate. The station has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $600 million since it began broadcasting in 2004.

Alhurra has sought to address some issues in the last year, by tackling financial and accounting procedures, according to several individuals with direct knowledge. Its president, Brian Conniff, met with congressional investigators and Alhurra has hired Tom Dine, a former head of Radio Free Europe and former director of AIPAC, the American-Israeli lobby group, as a consultant. Dine said in an interview with ProPublica that his enthusiasm for international broadcasting, and his knowledge of the Middle East, would help him to promote the network on Capitol Hill and within the Obama administration.

The White House has not said whether it intends to overhaul Alhurra or reshape its mandate. The administration is reportedly preparing to nominate Walter Isaacson, the former managing editor of Time magazine and a former chairman and CEO of CNN, to head the Broadcasting Board of Governors which oversees Alhurra, the Voice of America and other international government broadcasting efforts. State Department officials said it is unlikely that any decisions about Alhurra’s future will be taken before a new BBG chairman is in place.

Employees at Alhurra and Radio Sawa, which broadcast in Arabic to the Middle East, were told two weeks ago, in an e-mail from the company’s communications director, to complete a questionnaire ahead of the inspection and to prepare for meetings with members of the inspector general’s staff.

While the office of the inspector general "has done other audits on specific MBN issues, this will be the first inspection of overall MBN operations," Deirdre Klein wrote to the staff, referring to Alhurra’s parent network the Middle East Broadcasting Network.....

As part of the inspections, employees are asked to complete questionnaires ahead of interviews. The completed questionnaires were collected by last Friday and sent to the inspector general’s office ahead of the inspection, according to several people involved. (Here’s a copy of the questionnaire.)

Alhurra has experienced unusually high staff turnover. A number of senior staff members who worked on the business side, handling contracts and expenditures resigned in the last year.

Several employees of MBN said the company had also fired a number of employees in recent weeks, including a senior editor in Virginia. The editor, Adil Awadh, said in an interview with us that he had raised allegations of financial mismanagement at Radio Sawa both with supervisors and later with investigators from the inspector general’s office....

But results from the largest public opinion poll in the Arab world indicate that Alhurra is the least-favorite station in the region overall and is losing viewers.

The poll, published in May by the University of Maryland and Zogby International, showed Alhurra with about a 0.5 percent audience preference across the Arab world...."

Posted by G, Z, & or B at 7:16 AM

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