The Disaster of Destroying the Voice of America Arabic Service
Corey Pein in the Columbia Journalism Review writes about the current state of play with regard to “Radio Sawa.”
The real tragedy here in my view is that the Voice of America Arabic service was destroyed by Norman Pattiz of Westwood One. The VOA was a highly professional and actually quite interesting news service, which Pein rightly compares to “All Things Considered” on NPR. Its charter required its journalistic independence from the US government. It is bizarre that the response of the US government to 9/11 was to fire the VOA broadcasters and dismantle the service. Pattiz maintains that its market share was only 1 percent. But it was only broadcast on shortwave. You could have arranged for it to have better broadcasting facilities and increased that number. Besides, there are 210 million persons in the Arab world, so 1 percent is 2.1 million. They were disproportionately mature movers and shakers. To lose two million VIP Arab listeners at this point in time is an enormous tragedy.
Radio Sawa’s reporters do not operate under a Congressional charter of independence, and so its main feed just sounds like propaganda. See John Brown’s perceptive comments on all this in a recent article by William Fisher. Since Radio Sawa depends on FM relay stations, it can be blocked by local governments. And the evidence is that where it is received, mainly teeny boppers listen to its AM Top Forty format, tuning into the latest hits of Britney Spears (this could spark anti-Americanism all by itself!). The short AM-style news items on the main Radio Sawa feed use the diction of Israeli Arabic to describe the Arab-Israeli issues, and a lot (as much as half of) interviewees say they just tune it out. A lot of parents say they do not want their children listening to it because of its poor Arabic grammar.
Norm Pattiz actually boasts that he has traded the 2 million VIP movers and shakers who used to listen to the Voice of America for millions of teenaged Britney Spears fans. And as with the Neocons generally, the response to criticism has not been a rational public debate, but rather skullduggery behind closed doors, in which government reports are suppressed or censored and public opinion is manipulated. The victory of Straussianism is complete.
This report on listenership in “five key countries” is typical of Pattiz propaganda techniques. The five “key countries” aren’t “key” at all. They include three tiny Gulf states with a combined population of 5.5 million. But wait– very large proportions of that combined population are not even Arabic-speaking. I wonder if you have more than a couple million Arabs in the three. This is a trick which is made possible by the ignorance of the American public and US government officials in Washington, who don’t know that the Gulf countries are swamped with international guest workers (the native population of Qatar is less than 100,000, out of the 800,000 or so Qatar residents). The petroleum wealth has produced a Klondike kind of polyglot population. So his magnificent achievement of getting 39.5 percent of Kuwaitis to tune in to Radio Sawa once a week translates into a few hundred thousand persons, out of 210 million Arabs. Moreover, at least half of the 800,000 or so persons being counted in the 39.5 percent probably are not even Arabs, but are guest workers from Pakistan & etc. They probably are not listening to the news! In fact, the Gulf statistics would only be meaningful if they were disaggregated by native Arabic speakers and guest workers.
Jordan’s population is 5.6 million. So you total up four of the top five “key Arab countries” that Pattiz mentions, and they just have 7 million Arabs or so living in them.
As for the fifth country, Egypt, Pattiz could not get the Egyptian government to broadcast Radio Sawa on FM there, and it can only be heard on medium wave (i.e., just like the maligned Voice of America used to be), and there he got 10 percent of the population 15 years and older to tune in once a week, i.e. 7 million persons, probably mostly teenagers and early 20s.
Pattiz’s numbers are therefore all smoke and mirrors, quite apart from the issues of substance, which are quite serious. So what if young people like to listen to pop music? It is already being provided by Radio Monte Carlo’s Arabic service, just as well as it is by Radio Sawa. How is that a big achievement?
The general Radio Sawa feeds are just not up to the quality of VOA, though I have to say that the Iraqi Service of the Radio Sawa is increasingly getting up to VOA standards with its Iraq-specific discussions and reports.
The great cultural crime committed by Norman Pattiz, apparently for purely sectarian political purposes, of murdering the Arabic service of the Voice of America, has passed completely unremarked by the American public and by Congress.
But since it seems increasingly likely that our own English-language National Public Radio will be murdered, as well (by having its news programs submitted to Republican Party vetting for spin), I suppose it is not surprising that the mere issue of American relations with the Arab world is of little concern to anyone in Washington.