U.S. Moves Against Lebanese TV Station

By Marc Perelman

Published December 17, 2004, issue of December 17, 2004.
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American authorities are set to designate as a terrorist entity a pro-Hezbollah TV station that was recently banned in France.

An American official confirmed that the Treasury and State Departments were about to take such a step against Al Manar, a station based in Lebanon that has been broadcasting in America for several years. The move could force American-based satellite and program providers to stop airing the station here.

An initial agreement by Paris to allow air Al Manar to broadcast in France was roundly criticized and fell apart within days, after a participant in one program warned of “Zionist attempts” to transmit deadly diseases to Arab countries.

In a December 8 letter to Secretary of the Treasury John W. Snow, the American Jewish Committee asked that Al Manar be placed on the Treasury’s main terrorist list, citing the station’s links to Hezbollah. AJCommittee also urged that the American-based satellite operator Intelsat be ordered to stop broadcasting Al Manar.

Treasury department spokesperson Molly Millerwise confirmed that the secretary had received the letter, but refused to comment further.

The Al Manar controversy illustrates a point often made by European officials when discussing hate speech on the Internet and in other venues. They note that while American officials are quick to criticize European governments for failing to act swiftly against antisemitism, American authorities are largely disempowered when it comes to shutting down hate-spewing entities in the United States.

By contrast, European governments have more regulatory tools at their disposal if they decide to act — and are not required to prove that a media outlet is linked to terrorism.

In France, for instance, the top administrative court decision banning Al Manar was prompted by a complaint from the Higher Audiovisual Council, stating that Al Manar had violated a recent licensing agreement as well as the French law banning media from inciting hatred or violence.

On Tuesday, French satellite operator Eutelsat announced that it had ceased broadcasting Al Manar in compliance with a ruling Monday by France’s highest administrative court, ordering that the station be yanked off European airwaves within 48 hours because of the antisemitic content of its programs.

AJCommittee is part of an alliance of Jewish, Christian and Muslim groups billing itself as The Coalition Against Terrorist Media. The Coalition seeks to draw government attention to the terrorism connections of some satellite and Internet media without infringing on freedom of speech.

“This is not a First Amendment issue,” said Avi Jorisch, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a longtime advocate for stronger government action. “You can’t incite; you can’t advocate violence. The U.S. government should consider this very carefully and designate Al Manar as a terrorist entity.”

Jorisch, who wrote a study about Al Manar, said that the station was unquestionably part of Hezbollah and that the American government shared those views, pointing to recent comments by State Department officials.

AJCommittee argues that since Al Manar is linked to Hezbollah, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the American government, the Treasury has legal basis to take action.

In its letter to Snow, AJCommittee invoked counterterrorism laws and two executive orders that prohibit Americans from engaging in transactions with Hezbollah or otherwise associating with the group. The AJCommittee noted that the Treasury Department labeled Hezbollah a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” entity after the September 11 attacks and that in 1997 the State Department designated Hezbollah a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

If an entity is placed on the Treasury terrorist list, its accounts and properties are immediately frozen and, more importantly in this case, no American entity is allowed to do business with it.

Following Al Manar’s 2003 broadcasting of an antisemitic series, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said at a daily briefing that the station was an arm of Hezbollah, and called for it to be shut down. Around the same time, AJCommittee officials met with a senior Treasury official to argue that the broadcasts were illegal and the Anti-Defamation League wrote a letter to the Treasury, asking it to consider listing Al Manar as a terrorist entity. Both efforts were to no avail.

Last week, AJCommittee also voiced its views in a letter to Intelsat, the satellite operator beaming Al Manar into the United States, which is based in the Bermuda Islands but has its main office in Washington.

Kenneth Bandler, a spokesman for AJCommittee, said that the group had not received any response from Intelsat or from officials at the Treasury and State departments.

Fritz Stolzenbach, Intelsat’s director of corporate communications, said the company was currently weighing its response. While he stressed that Intelsat would do “the right thing,” he refused to elaborate on the options or the time-frame.

“Our corporate values don’t condone racism and violence,” he said. “We are working with the appropriate parties to do the right thing.”

Stolzenbach said that Intelsat was merely leasing satellite bandwidth and had no relationship at all with Al Manar, comparing his company’s role to the postal service. He said that Intelsat was providing its satellite infrastructure to GlobeCast WorldTV, a subsidiary of GlobeCast, a leading French-based company that provides 122 foreign TV and radio stations to American households. An official with the New York-based company The Blackstone Group, which owns a satellite beaming Al Manar in Europe, said, similarly, that his company had no control over the contents of Al Manar but that GlobeCast, in fact, did. Calls and e-mails seeking comment from GlobeCast’s press office were not returned.

GlobeCast WorldTV, in turn, has an agreement with Arabsat, a Saudi-based company set up at the behest of the Arab League, which offers dozens of channels from the region, including Al Manar, but also state-controlled stations in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran and other countries.

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