Al-Hurra (the free one) started broadcasting on Saturday from Washington, with facilities in several capitals, including US-occupied Iraq.
The Bush administration hopes the Arabic language station will help stem “anti-Americanism” fuelled by the US embrace of Israeli occupation of Arab land and bloody repression of the Palestinian people.
The station promises a balanced approach, a possibility many Arab intellectuals dismiss as impossible given Israel’s penetrating influence on American politics and policies, as most Arabs and Muslims see it.
Aljazeera.net surveyed the reactions of a number of Palestinian intellectuals, academics, journalists and public opinion leaders to the launch of al-Hurra TV.
The result is a striking consensus: the station will not succeed in “beautifying America’s ugly face” in the eyes millions of Arabs and Muslims as long as America’s hostile policies remain unchanged.
Farid Abu Dhuhair is professor of journalism and mass communication at the Najah University in Nablus. He believes the very idea of launching al-Hurra stems from a misunderstanding.
Al-Hurra, it is claimed, will 'tell us'
Israel is not killing Palestinians
"The Americans think that we hate them because we don’t receive accurate information about the reality of American politics. This is not true.
"America's image is ugly because American policies and actions are ugly. America can’t act the way it is acting and expect Arabs and Muslims to love her."
According to Abu Dhuhair, Arab viewers are already exposed to a large variety of views from a myriad of satellite stations representing all political and ideological orientations from the far right to the far left.
“I don’t think one more station would make a big difference. We are talking about an extremely politicised and well-informed audience. In the final analysis, Arab viewers will pay more attention to what Israel is doing in Gaza and Nablus than to what al-Hurra is saying.”
Abu Dhuhair predicts al-Hurra will fail to achieve its main goals as long as it reflects America’s “scandalous bias toward Israel”.
“[President] Bush says Sharon is a man of peace. If al-Hurra repeats this nonsense, who is going to believe that in the Arab world?” he added.
Abd al-Sattar Qasim, professor of political science at al-Najah University in Nablus, holds a similar view.
He describes al-Hurra as a “hopeless effort to make an ugly face looks less ugly or even beautiful”.
"Al-Hurra is going to tell us that Israel... is not building the ugly wall which is ghettoizing Palestinian towns and turning Palestinian towns and villages into virtual concentration camps ...
Lies and cosmetics can’t obfuscate an ugly reality, and our people are not stupid anyway"
Abd al-Sattar Qasim,
Professor of Political Science
Al-Najah University, Nablus
“Al-Hurra is going to tell us that Israel is not slaughtering Palestinian children in Gaza, is not destroying poor people’s homes in Rafah, is not building the ugly wall which is ghettoizing Palestinian towns and turning Palestinian towns and villages to virtual concentration camps ... Lies and cosmetics can’t obfuscate an ugly reality, and our people are not stupid anyway.”
Qasim suspects that the real danger will come not from al-Hurra’s news programmes but rather from its expected “hidden agenda”, normally encouraging “licentious western lifestyles”.
"I think they will try to encourage promiscuity and all other forms of immorality, but then this would only vindicate the views of those who are saying that the station’s raison d’etre is to undermine Islamic culture and values."
Like Dhuhair, Qasim believes al-Hurra will achieve very little success in changing Arab and Muslim perceptions of the USA.
“As long as the US continues to embrace Israeli Nazism, vilify Islam and support dynastic Arab despotisms, there is no way Arabs and Muslims will change their views of America.”
The US will be judged by its policies
not words, says commentator
He adds: “One Israeli atrocity in Gaza is sufficient to destroy what al-Hurra may succeed in building in an entire year.”
Asked if and how Palestinians and Muslims in general, will resist the US channel, Qasim vows “to bombard it with our pens”.
“We will confront it with the fire of our pens.”
Israeli-Arab Knesset member Ahmad Taibi said during an interview with Aljazeera.net the American decision to launch al-Hurra had been recommended by “Israeli circles”.
“The Americans are trying to emulate Israel by thinking that the accumulative effect of criminal policies and practices can be undone or at least mitigated by public relations. This is wrong, and the Israelis know that too well.”
"I am convinced that as long as the US continues to embrace Israeli criminality, the Arabs will likewise continue to view America as an accomplice and tormentor"
Israel-Arab Knesset member
Taibi pointed out that Arabs and Muslims would judge America by its actions and policies not by its words.
“I am convinced that as long as the US continues to embrace Israeli criminality, the Arabs will likewise continue to view America as an accomplice and tormentor.
"An ugly face will remain ugly no matter how much make-up you put on it."
Some Palestinians and Arabs believe the real motivation behind al-Hurra is to undermine Islamic values.
Hanin al-Sayih, a Nablus journalist, is one of those convinced al-Hurra is only a “small detail” in America’s overall "hateful war on Islam and Muslims".
“What we are experiencing is a religious war by America on Islam. We have seen what America has done in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine. It is a new crusader war on Islam fought under the pretext of fighting terrorism.”