U.S. taxpayers should not pay to air terrorist tirades

U.S. taxpayers should not pay to air terrorist tirades

U.S. taxpayers should not pay to air terrorist tirades. Yet, that is exactly what happened at Alhurra, an Arabic-language television network for the Middle East that is completely funded by U.S. tax dollars.

Alhurra exists to counter the anti-American biases that pervade the Arab world’s news media. However, the station’s recent broadcasts have instead provided platforms for terrorists to spew hate directed at the United States and Israel.

In November ‘006, former CNN producer Larry Register took over the station. Since then, he has broadcast live, hour-long interviews with terrorist leaders. One month into the job, Register put Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hasan Nasrallah on live. According to the Wall Street Journal, less than five minutes into his 60-minute rant, Nasrallah told the audience behind him to stop their gun-firing, explaining, "the only place where bullets should be is the chest of the enemies of Lebanon: the Israeli enemy."

Register also broadcast live, unchallenged interviews with Hamas leader Ismail Haniya in December and yet another in November with an alleged al Qaeda operative who, according to the WSJ, "expressed joy that 9/11 rubbed ‘America’s nose in the dust’."

When I learned of these events, I was outraged. Why on earth were terrorists allowed to spout-off live and unedited on a TV station paid for by American taxpayers? In no way are the ravings of Nasrallah and an al Qaeda operative promoting the United States’ perspectives and policies abroad. In no way were these broadcasts in our country’s best interests. How did this happen?

After looking into the matter, I discovered that this happened for two reasons: One is the terrible judgment of Larry Register. The second is a lack of transparency and oversight.

New leadership

Within weeks of joining Alhurra, Register violated a written policy at least three times by giving free air-time to terrorists. Either Mr. Register was not aware of the policy or he was aware of the policy and chose to ignore it. Neither explanation is defensible.

When asked about his decisions, Register said that for Alhurra to have credibility in the Arab world, it has to air anti-American and anti-Israeli speakers. That answer demonstrated to me that Mr. Register does not understand the purpose of Alhurra.

The oppressed people of the Arab world do not tune into Alhurra to hear the same hate-mongers they can hear on Al Jazeera. They tune into Alhurra to learn about the U.S. and hear our views. Mr. Register is beyond help if he thinks U.S. taxpayers want to turn Alhurra into another Al Jazeera. Register should be fired, effective immediately.

Accountability and oversight

New leadership is only part of the solution. Meaningful oversight and accountability is also needed at Alhurra. Currently, Alhurra broadcasts are monitored internally by the State Department’s "Rapid Response Team," which is comprised of several Arabic speakers who sit in a closed room watching live U.S.-funded international broadcasting all day.

Despite being called "rapid responders," these individuals do not have any authority to respond to a problem, nor can they compel others to act quickly. Instead, if a problem broadcast is spotted, the team simply reports the questionable materials to the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Karen Hughes, after the fact.

When Hughes testified before the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Foreign Operations on April 19, ‘007, I told her flat out that her agency’s monitoring system does not work. It relies on a handful of paid Bush Administration viewers to report about already-aired programs. Worse, this system is closed to the American people, including members of Congress, watchdog groups, and reporters.

After my questioning about the recent incidents at Alhurra, Under Secretary Hughes acknowledged that Register’s actions were wrong and pledged to better enforce the existing policy that prohibits Alhurra from providing a soapbox for terrorist leaders.

While I am pleased with Ms. Hughes’ promises, given the seriousness of mistakes at Alhurra, I believe an external accountability system is in order — one that enables everyone to access Alhurra’s programming and provide oversight.

To that end, I have requested funding in the Fiscal Year ‘008 Foreign Operations spending bill to stream all Alhurra broadcasts live online ‘4 hours a day, 7 days a week, and provide archived broadcasts, as well as transcripts of all broadcasts translated into English. With the click of a mouse button, we can ensure that Alhurra lives up to its mission of representing American values.

By removing the present leadership at Alhurra and by making its programming accessible and understandable to those who pay for it — the American people — we can begin to fix Alhurra. And, we can make sure that terrorists are not given a free pass to use our own airwaves against us.

Never again should U.S. taxpayer dollars pay to give terrorists a vehicle to convey their anti-American views and anti-Israel hatred.

Representative Steve Rothman has been a member of the House Appropriations Committee since ‘001. He sits on the Subcommittees on Defense, Foreign Operations, and Agriculture. The Foreign Operations Subcommittee oversees federal spending on the U.S. State Department, including the international media efforts run by Under Secretary Karen Hughes. Rothman is also a member of the House Science and Technology Committee.