Three and a half years after Islamic activists based in Germany allegedly helped mount the 11 September 2001 attacks, US-backed TV channel Al-Hurra expects to transmit 24-hour programming to European Muslim communities seen as potentially hostile to the US.


France and Germany, which have Western Europe's largest Muslim populations, will be a special focus for news and current affairs programmes intended to promote an American ethic of free speech and open debate, officials say.


"The 9/11 hijackers came largely from Europe. It's a significant gap that we were not broadcasting in Arabic to Europe," said Kenneth Tomlinson, chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the US agency in charge of US civilian TV and radio broadcasts overseas.

"The reason for being [in Europe] is the same as our reason for being in the Middle East: To provide a different perspective ... of America and the world"

Norman Pattiz, US Broadcasting Board of Governors

Different perspective

Norman Pattiz, who chairs the broadcasting board's Middle East committee, said: "The reason for being [in Europe] is the same as our reason for being in the Middle East: To provide a different perspective ... of America and the world."

Start-up funding for the $3.5-million venture is slated to come from US President George Bush's $81 billion supplemental budget request for military operations in Iraq.

If Congress approves the request within the next several weeks as officials expect, Virginia-based Al-Hurra could begin broadcasting by late this year to a Muslim population estimated at 11 million people in Western Europe alone.

Scepticism

The Bush administration views satellite TV as a soft-power tool for building goodwill towards the United States, which has been sorely lacking in the Muslim world, especially since the recent US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.


Bush officials see satellite TV as  
a soft-power tool

Officials say Al-Hurra has grown to reach about 25% of satellite TV owners in the Middle East and viewers increasingly find its newscasts credible and reliable.


However, there has been widespread scepticism in the Arab world since al-Hurra's launch last year.

 

Most commentators have belittled it as little more than a US propaganda channel.


And independent experts say Al-Hurra's mass-market strategy is a risky departure from Cold War propaganda that sought to influence decision-makers rather than general audiences.


"I just don't know how effective it's going to be. A better use of resources would be to work with moderate leaders throughout the Arab world," Nancy Snow, a propaganda expert at California State University, Fullerton, said.