Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I Talk to the Trees...

Over at Salon, Joe Conason writes on the failure of Al Hurra to engage Arab audiences.

Despite a title that promises to explain why Al Hurra has failed, Conason neglects to provide concrete hypotheses, simply noting that his panel at the Arab Media Forum "never reached unanimity on the successes and shortcomings of the Qatar-based international news channel--or of Al-Jazeera English, its sister operation," although "there was broad agreement that the U.S.-branded Al-Hurra has been a very costly mistake."

While U.S. broadcasting has been celebrated as a successful public diplomacy tool in the past, most notably for its contributions during the Cold War, modern broadcasting is indeed a costly enterprise, and in an increasingly competitive information market, many broadcasting operations are struggling to keep up.

Like Conason, I recognize that there are many reasons for the poor performance of U.S. broadcasters like Al Hurra and Radio Sawa, but I'll focus on one specifically here, namely that broadcasters tend to regard the legitimacy of foreign audiences as an extension of their perceived ability to promote U.S. policy goals.

Arab audiences are frequently treated as objects to receive messages, as opposed to independent agents capable of shaping and responding to ideas. This style of broadcasting reinforces existing power dynamics and attitudes, and it's hardly surprising that it's failed to capture a large percentage of the market.

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