Australia’s Parliament and mainstream media may not differ all that much from other western countries when it comes to chronic groveling to the Zionist lobby. But like citizens in many countries, Australians sometimes exhibit admirable independence and respect for their society’s own values. On December 10, 2010, whether by design or coincidence, International Human Rights Day, Australia’s Communication and Media Authority ( ACMA ) released its decision on whether to ban Lebanon’s Al Manar TV channel from being broadcast down under via the Indonesian PT Indosat satellite ( Palapa D) that was launched on 12/27/09.
As in the US, which does ban Al Manar, the popular station’s programming would, even if banned, still be available via internet live streaming. Al Manar (“ the Beacon”), affiliated with the Lebanese political party, social service organization and resistance movement Hezbollah, has been the target of an intensive Israel instigated media assault for several years. Silvan Shalom, former Israeli Foreign Minister, at a 2004 Herzliya Convention, outlined his governments policy succinctly: “The Israeli Foreign Ministry intends to work actively to have Al Manar banned in other countries around the globe. It is Israel’s intention to bring the seriousness of Al-Manar’s broadcasts to the attention of the international community and to convince them to prevent Al-Manar from operating in as many countries as possible.”
The Arabic-language station, started in 1991, has twice been banned in Australia, but was cleared by ACMA in 2009 and now again in 2010. To its credit, Australia’s media watchdog agency took its work seriously and more than once resisted being railroaded by ‘Israel first’ groups. ACMA’s mandate was to address community concerns by aiming to prevent the broadcast of programs that directly attempt to recruit people, or solicit funds, for listed terrorist organizations. Specifically ACMA wanted to know if Al Manar, via its programming, “directly recruited persons to join, or participate in, the activities of a listed terrorist organization; or solicited for or assisted in the collection or provision of funds for a listed terrorist organization.”
To determine this, ACMA translated, watched and carefully analyzed popular Al Manar programs including the following:
Date of broadcast Program Description 26 December 2009 8th day of Ashura, Speech given by the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah. 25 December 2009 7th day of Ashura Speech given by the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah. 15 December 2009 Advertisement Donation for al-Emdad charity. 15 December 2009 Interstitial Our Dignity is Attributed to Martyrdom. Message to resistance fighters. 15 December 2009 Interstitial Martyr memorial of Jihad Malek Hammoud. 1 December 2009 Manifesto speech,We Want Lebanon Strong and United. Speech given by the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah. 17 November 2009 Drama program Syrian-produced drama series. 15 November 2009 Current affairs Youth. Presenter discusses social networking sites with viewers. 15 November 2009 Current affairs Ma’a Al Mushahideen (With the Viewer). Presenter discusses the war in Yemen with viewers. 5 March 2009 Children’s program What is it? Children explaining their illustrations. 28 February 2009 Current affairs With the Event. Presenter discusses Islamic and Christian Holy sites with guest.
In issuing its findings of fact and conclusions of law ACMA found that Al Manar did not violate Australian law, and was free to broadcast in the country, ACMA did howver, issue a caveat regarding two of the above listed programs, With the Event and With the Viewer. A majority of the ACMA broad felt With the Viewers, on 15 November 2009, was in breach of clause 1.2 of the ACMA codes, and felt the program was not presented fairly. The ACMA also found the broadcast of the current affairs program, With the Event, on 28 February 2009, was in breach of clause 1.3 of the codes, as the program might gratuitously vilify a group on the basis of ethnicity and religion. However, ACMA still issued a clean bill of health to Al Manar. A minority on the ACMA board felt that Al Manar should not be held responsible for any code breaches with these two particular episodes because the ACMA survey of Al Manar programming makes clear that Al Manar presenters and program moderators routinely introduce programs objectively and try to moderate objectionable behavior from their guests or viewers. Moreover, they pointed out that the With the Viewers and With the Event programs feature live audience participation.
With the viewers, one of the most popular shows in the Middle East, features people calling in to express their opinions on certain issues and current events. During With the Viewers, the presenter will cut calls that cross the ethical, religious, lines. Defamation is not allowed, no matter who or what views are being discussed. For example, Palestinian refugees might call in to talk about their sufferings from the occupation and sometimes passions rise. All in all, With the Viewers and With the Event are thought by some ACMA analysts to be rather tame compared to certain American and Israeli programs where racist slurs and ethnic incitements are more common.
In fact, Al Manar has sometimes been criticized for being ‘too tame’ in its wish to be a family oriented station while avoiding controversy. This observer was disappointed with Al Manar when on August 13, 2010 it pulled the widely praised and award winning series, “The Christ” (Al-sayid al-masih) by Iranian Director Nader Talebzadeh because of some murmurs of criticism from certain Christian politicians. The story line shows the Muslim point of view of Jesus and brilliantly presents his life as a prophet. Al Manar said it took the action “in respect of some sensitivities and to avoid any attempt for negative exploitation.” However, they said, the series “reflects, with full honor and glorification, of Jesus’ life, picture, role, pain and sacrifices.”
What does the ACMA decision means beyond Al Manar’s clean bill of health?
Sometimes the symbolism of an event exceeds the significance of the specific act itself. Few freedom of speech and objective media and journalism advocates are not praising Australia’s stance in rejecting politically motivated assaults on broadcasting which is essentially all that the ACMA-Al Manar case represented. In response, those crusading against Al Manar have issued their boilerplate objections including implying Australian anti-Semitism, ACMA incompetence and growing and dangerous Muslim influence. Mark Leibler, AIJAC’s national chairman, said his organization was ” outraged that ACMA ignored evidence that ads of a particular charity, al-Emdad were shown on Al Manar.
Claiming this was a breach of Australia’s anti-terrorism standards”m the council’s executive director, Colin Rubenstein, urged ACMA, despite its findings, to ban the TV station ” because it is associated with Hezbollah, which itself is Terrorist listed by the federal government. Rubenstein added “Al-Manar’s raison d’etre is to radicalize Muslims around the world, including in Australia, to support Hezbollah’s terrorist methods and goals. AIJAC believes any media organization owned and/or operated by any banned terrorist organization should also be banned in Australia.”
Outside College Hall on the campus of the American University of Beirut, some students were discussing the ACMA decision. One young man from Egypt explained, “ All Hezbollah has ever asked from those who may be wary of the Party for some reason or another is to keep an open mine. Sit with us, dialogue with us, give us a fair hearing on the facts as you see them. This is all Hezbollah or any party has the right to ask. Australia, to its great credit did just that. I have never met an Australian but I think they must be very fair minded people.” One political consequence of ACMA ruling may be to kill H.R. 2278, Florida Congressman Gus Bilirakas’ “Terror TV” bill that AIPAC told him would targets Al Manar and Hamas’ TV station Al Aqsa, but it turns out would affect more than 64 Arab and Muslim satellite channels in 24 countries. The bill is currently in John Kerry’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee and will likely never get out.
Meanwhile, Australian’s Zionist lobby received a triple painful dose of disappointment from the Grinch when in addition to the ACMA shock, Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd announced that his government would be tripling its contributions to one of AIJAC’s long pursued targets for dismantlement, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) by providing AUD 18 million over the coming three years. As it that were not enough holiday season punishment, AIJAC’s Reubenstein ruminated about the fact that secret cables from the US embassy in Canberra, provided exclusively to the Sydney Morning Herald by fellow Australian Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, reveal that some Australian officials do not share the US-Israel assessment that Iran is a “rogue state”.
AIJAC, while not giving up trying to close Al Manar in Australia, is now planning a geographical shift of its crusade, for the time being. The executive director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Peter Wertheim, on 12/11/10 called on Canberra to demand that the Indonesian government immediately cancel the PT Indosat satellite with Al Manar “and finally grasp the true nature of the station, particularly the danger al-Manar poses vis-a-vis the radicalization of Indonesian Muslims”.
What Israel and its international lobby appear concerned with, and not without some basis, given the potential penumbral effects of ACMA’s ruling and what it means for the rest of the US-Israel politically inspired terrorism lists. The American justice system is obviously not perfect. But to quote Julian Assange’s on his release from Wandsworth’s Victorian era prison on 12/16/10 with respect to Britain, “If justice is not always an outcome, at least it is not dead yet.”
FRANKLIN LAMB is doing research in Lebanon and can be reached via email@example.com