Former boss of S.F. federation to aid Arabic network

Tom Dine, who once headed the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, has been hired to burnish the image of a broadcasting network whose prime target audience lies on the other side of the Mideast divide.

Tom Dine

Dine, the executive director of AIPAC from 1980 to 1993 and the CEO of the S.F.-based federation from 2005 to 2007, has been hired as a communications consultant by Middle East Broadcasting Networks, a U.S. government–funded nonprofit devoted to courting the region’s Arabs.

MBN, which was created by an act of Congress in 2003, operates a television station, al-Hurra (Arabic for “the free one”), and a radio station, Radio Sawa. The two news outlets are would-be alternatives to Mideast broadcasting giants such as al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya, whose content is often regarded as biased against Israel and the West.

MBN’s stated mission is to “provide objective, accurate and relevant news and information to the people of the Middle East about the region, the world and the United States. MBN supports democratic values by expanding the spectrum of ideas, opinions and perspectives available in the region’s media.”

Dine, who was hired about a month ago, was brought in to spruce up the image of MBN, which has been tarnished during the past few years due to allegations of financial mismanagement, biased news reporting, low ratings and a general lack of professionalism.

MBN approached Dine because his “vast experience and understanding of U.S. international broadcasting and the Middle East” make him well suited to present MBN’s case to opinion shapers such as media outlets, universities and think tanks, according to Deirdre Kline, director of communications at MBN.

Dine, who serves on the Israel Policy Forum’s U.S. Advisory Council, was the head of the S.F.-based federation for 20 months. When he announced his intention to step down in June 2007, he told j., “I don’t think it was a good fit.”

Dine served as the head of the federation in between the three-year tenure of Sam Salkin and the recently concluded 14-month tenure of Daniel Sokatch.

Dine could not be reached for comment for this article, as Kline said in an e-mail he was “unavailable for an interview.”

Kline said MBN is the victim of misperceptions created largely by distorted or erroneous news reporting. She was referring primarily to series of critical articles carried this year and last by the investigative Web site ProPublica, which reported in June 2008, for example, that al-Hurra had aired “anti-American and anti-Israeli viewpoints” and had “showcased pro-Iranian policies.”

In July 2008, MBN issued a 15-page rejoinder that challenged many of the allegations raised in the ProPublica reports.

MBN is supervised by the Broadcast Board of Governors, an independent federal agency that oversees all U.S. government-supported nonmilitary international broadcasting, including the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. MBN is funded solely by the U.S. government; its 2008 budget was about $103 million.

BBG director of public affairs Letitia King also charged that MBN has often been mischaracterized. For example, she maintained, some detractors erroneously claim that the network suffers from extraordinarily low ratings because it is not trusted by the Arab populace. King said the numbers usually cited do not accurately reflect the popularity of the network.

Contacted earlier this week, Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, questioned Dine’s appointment. “On its face, al-Hurra is trying to project an American viewpoint to the Arabic-speaking world, and I don’t know if that would be helped by hiring the former head of a pro-Israel lobbying group,” Hooper said.

When Dine headed AIPAC from 1980 to 1993, the organization’s staff, membership, budget and influence grew explosively. However, he was forced out after making remarks during an interview that disparaged ultra-Orthodox Jews.

He subsequently became the longest-serving president of Radio Free Europe/

Radio Liberty, completing his eight-year tenure in 2005, then took over as CEO of the S.F.-based federation.

J. archives contributed to this report.