The U.S. is combatting religious extremism in northern Nigeria with Arewa24, a 24-hour satellite television station that will broadcast in Hausa, the dominant language in the region. Arewa means “north” in Hausa.
The program was started last year.
Unlike many other U.S.-funded foreign news outlets that are run by the semi-independent Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), Arewa24 is funded and run by the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism. The U.S. is spending $6 million on the project, which will provide family-orientated programs produced by Nigerians. The State Department's hope is that Arewa24 will help counter Boko Haram’s propaganda efforts and extremist broadcasts, the New York Times reported.
A State Department official told the Times the agency wasn’t actively hiding its involvement in Arewa24 but American involvement wouldn’t be “advertised or promoted.” The Nigerian government is aware of the State Department’s involvement, a government official said.
Arewa24 will be run by Equal Access International, which also runs programs in Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Chad, India, Laos, Nepal, Niger, Pakistan and Yemen.
Equal Access International says its mission is “to create positive social change for millions of underserved people in the developing world by delivering critically needed information and education through innovative media, appropriate technology and direct community engagement.”
One of Equal Access International's main goals is to promote women's rights and health in countries where women are marginalized, a situation all too familiar for Nigerians who saw Boko Haram steal 300 young girls to sell as bride-slaves.
The U.S. government has run foreign broadcast services since World War II. The BBG networks broadcast in 61 languages and reach 206 people on all continents. The BBG’s specific mission is “to inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy.” During the Cold War, the BBG’s predecessor agency targeted residents in communist countries to counter state-run propaganda and promote the image of the U.S.
These programs are often blocked in countries with strict media controls like China. Robert R. Reilly, a former director of Voice of America, the BBG’s biggest outlet, recently wrote VOA’s broadcast reach is directly connected to U.S. strategic interest.
“Too often board members proclaimed that government broadcasting had nothing to do with U.S. public diplomacy,” Reilly wrote in a Wall Street Journal editorial. “At which point, one might reasonably ask, then why are we doing it? And why should the U.S. taxpayer pay for it?”
Reilly advocates for an even more political involvement in U.S. worldwide broadcasts, and was critical of BBG board members who governed with commercial ideals.
“The U.S. has enduring interests in the world. We need to explain ourselves in the most persuasive way we can, and by the most effective means, particularly to those peoples and countries whose future is going to most affect ours. … This needs to be done within the U.S. government in a command structure related to our national security.”
A Cuban Twitter-like program run by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) came under fire earlier this year when the Associated Press reported it was used to spread anti-government sentiments among Cuban users. USAID contended that it did not do so and only sought to promote political discussion in the country.
Arewa24 has not yet started broadcasting. Boko Haram is expected to attempt to block access to Arewa24 like it does to many other media and cell phone networks. According to Spesh’s World, Arewa24 is part of a larger multimedia and Internet effort to combat religious and anti-American extremism.