A Hezbollah-run Arabic station could soon be broadcasting in Australia.
The Age – August 7, 2009
IMAGINE for a moment that Abu Bakr Bashir ordered his Jemaah Islamiah followers to start a satellite television station, perhaps called JI-TV.
Such a station might include sermons declaring it a duty for all Muslims to fight and kill Australians and residents of any other country who participated in the fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq. It might have hagiographic portraits of JI “martyrs”, such as the Bali bombers, urging others to emulate them. It might have children’s programs designed to convince children to aspire to “martyrdom”. And it might routinely include openly antiSemitic rhetoric. And imagine that this “JI-TV” was broadcast into Australia, perhaps from Indonesia.
According to Australia’s peak communication regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), all of this would apparently be fine under Australian law. This is the implication of a just-released investigation by ACMA of al-Manar, the Arabic satellite television station run by the Lebanon-based but Iranian-funded and controlled terrorist group Hezbollah.
According to ACMA, under the current regulations, there are only two things such a TV station is not allowed to do. It cannot directly recruit people to join a terrorist organisation, which under new standards it promulgated in December 2008 is only judged to occur when the media outlet gives contact details on how to join or obtain terrorist training material. So Hezbollah – or JI or al-Qaeda, for that matter – are free to urge people to support the “resistance” and promote it as a religious obligation to participate in its activities – as long as phone numbers are not provided. Secondly, it may not do anything reasonably construed as “soliciting funds for a terrorist organisation”, which again is interpreted as meaning only to provide information such as bank account details.
ACMA did not see any problem with an advertisement on al-Manar soliciting donations for the al-Emdad charity, which is used primarily for supporting the families of Hezbollah fighters. Giving it money is effectively indistinguishable from giving money to Hezbollah, which is illegal in Australia.
While ACMA looked at al-Manar’s programming for only a single week last year, this decision essentially declares that terrorist television is allowed in Australia – unlike the US, Canada, France, Germany, and the EU, all of whose authorities have banned al-Manar.
Al-Manar is reaching much of Australia’s east coast via a satellite feed from Indonesia. The programs reviewed by ACMA included a laudatory portrait of assassinated Hezbollah terror mastermind Imad Mughniyeh, plus several profiles of Lebanese people who assisted Hezbollah. The individuals featured said things such as “[I] would love to die as a martyr”.
Al-Manar has videos of children undergoing military training accompanied by a rousing chorus singing, “Death, death, death to Israel” and others singing to their mothers asking them for stories about their fathers martyred fighting Israel. Animation segments have portrayed Jews as turning into apes and pigs. This segment is an example of the blatant anti-Semitism on al-Manar – almost certainly contravening Australian racial hatred laws.
The station broadcast a 30-part series in 2003 during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan based explicitly on the famous anti-Semitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and also portrayed rabbis as plotting to slaughter non-Jewish children to use their blood for Passover matza. Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah described Jews on air as “Allah’s most cowardly and greedy creatures”.
It would seem simply good policy and morality that terrorist organisations should not be allowed to operate television stations in Australia regardless of whether they cross an arbitrary line between merely encouraging people to join and provide funding or actually listing the contact details. It is clear that changes made last December to broadcasting guidelines with regard to terrorism – designed to protect free speech and fair reporting – went too far. There can be absolutely no public interest in allowing terrorist groups to air their own television stations, such as al-Manar, in Australia.
As we saw this week with the arrest of a group of citizens allegedly planning a terrorist attack on a Sydney army base, there are still Australian residents and citizens vulnerable to recruitment by terrorist organisations to commit violence in Australia.
Do we really want to give these groups extra help to radicalise such individuals by allowing them to beam their TV propaganda directly into people’s homes?
Dr Colin Rubenstein is executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.