Cari Machet, who has lived and worked as a multimedia producer throughout the Middle East, writes about a new House bill that could sanction satellite operators if they contract their services to TV stations classified as terrorist entities by Congress. She argues it may prove to be counterproductive.
Last month Congress passed H.R. 2278, which would label certain Middle Eastern satellite providers of incendiary television programming as terrorist organizations — in an effort to prevent radical anti-Americanism from hitting the airwaves.
Representative Gus Bilirakis (R-Florida) introduced the legislation that would label satellite TV channels and content providers as “Specially Designated Global Terrorists” or SDGTs.
The wording of the bill seems too broad to enact and as yet has not been pushed through the Senate.
This bill is almost a carbon copy of a bill passed by Congress in 2008, H.Res.1069, which condemned the use of television programming by Hamas to indoctrinate hatred, violence and Antisemitism.
The earlier bill mainly focused on al-Aqsa TV, the channel run by Palestinian militant organization Hamas. The bill particularly targeted children’s program Tomorrow’s Pioneers, which depicts a Bugs Bunny-like character declaring that he “will finish off the Jews and eat them.”
The station recently launched a new cartoon satirizing a Fatah soldier named Bahlul (Buffoon) and a “blood-drinking Jew.” The network also operates its own film studio where they shoot movies they call the “cinema of resistance.”
Al-Aqsa TV is currently transmitted by satellites owned by the French-based, privately owned Eutelsat and by the Saudi-based, Arab League-owned Arabsat.
The new bill mainly targets Lebanese Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV channel. The station is telecast throughout the Arab world via Arabsat and the Egyptian-based, state-owned Nilesat.
Hezbollah is a Shi’a Islamist political and paramilitary organization that provides social services and operates schools, hospitals and agricultural services for Lebanese Shiites. They hold 11 seats in the Lebanese parliament.
The United States designates Hezbollah a terrorist group, and its militant wing has been linked to several major terrorist attacks. But the E.U. has resisted the terrorist label, with some countries arguing that engagement is a better policy.
Some Lebanese object strenuously to the bill. Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri sent a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi stating, “This bill represents bypassing the sovereign national laws of the targeted countries, among them Lebanon which is a free ‘Hyde Park’ for the Lebanese and Arab satellite ‘public opinion’ media channels.”
The passing of the bill prompted an Arab League meeting in Cairo on Jan 24th. The Arab information ministers released a statement after that meeting that censured the bill and called it “an interference in the internal affairs of Arab states who regulate their media affairs according to national legislation.”
“We insist on media freedom and reject any restrictions on it,” said Lebanese Information Minister Tareq Mitri.
During that meeting, participants discussed another proposal supported by the Egyptian and Saudi governments for the creation of a regional office to supervise Arab satellite TV stations — which might even impact the BBC Arabic (and BBC World) channels, or even the U.S.- government owned news channel Alhurra.
But the Lebanese government is against the idea of a pan-Arab media commission. Reporters Without Borders concurs: “The danger is that this super-police could be used to censor all TV stations that criticize the region’s governments. It could eventually be turned into a formidable weapon against freedom of information.”
Throughout the Mideast, mainstream American media saturates free satellite airwaves. Some is censored for content, but not always news content. There is a lack of knowledge among the bill’s supporters of the breadth and power of American culture, which blasts on radios, beams out of flat screen televisions and flashes on computers everywhere.
As President Obama said in his State of the Union speech: “Abroad, America’s greatest source of strength has always been our ideals.”
Of course the Senate is a far different body than the House. Also, the president would have to sign H.R. 2278 into law, but so far there is no comment from the White House regarding the bill.
Marc Lynch writes about the bill on Foreign Policy:
In short, H.R. 2278 is a deeply irresponsible bill which sharply contradicts American support for media freedom and could not be implemented in the Middle East today as crafted without causing great damage. Even Arab governments who despise Hamas and Hezbollah and Qaradawi and al-Jazeera could not sign on to it…The last thing the Arab world needs right now is more state power of censorship over the media — whether the Arab League over satellite TV or the Jordanian government over the internet. Hillary Clinton just laid out a vision of an America committed to internet freedom, and that should be embraced as part of a broader commitment to free and open media. Nobody should be keen on restoring the power of authoritarian governments over one of the few zones of relative freedom which have evolved over the last decade.
– Cari Machet