Taking the war on terror to the media

A draft resolution in the U.S. Congress wants the White House to designate the Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa TV station as a terrorist organization. MENASSAT asked opinion makers in Gaza what, if anything, the repercussions might be.
aqsa tv

GAZA, July 10, 2008 (MENASSAT) – In late June, members of the United States House of Representatives presented a draft resolution to Congress asking to designate the Hamas-backed al-Aqsa satellite channel as a terrorist organization.

There is little doubt that al-Aqsa's content is controversial, but on the ground, people in Gaza view the U.S. decision as a move to destroy any media institution criticizing western, and in particular, American policy in the Middle-East.

It is also a move media makers in the Arab world and in the Gaza strip say is a perfect example of western double-standards.

Inciting violence

The case has been made even simpler in the eyes of U.S. lawmakers because al-Aqsa is affiliated with Hamas, an organization the U.S. has already designated a terrorist organization.

Specifically, the draft resolution accused al-Aqsa of inciting violence against Americans and the U.S., and of sponsoring fund-raising efforts for terrorist activities.

It gave the example of a puppet show al-Aqsa broadcast in March, showing an Arab child stabbing the American president and turning the White House into a mosque.

Democratic Representative Robert Wexler from Florida originally sent a letter to U.S. president George W. Bush urging him to categorize al-Aqsa as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity along with four other broadcasters they said incited violence: the Lebanese TV station al-Manar, affiliated with Hezbollah, the Iranian station al-Alam, and the Iraqi stations al-Zawra and al-Rafidayn.

Gaza weighs in

Khalil Abu Shamala, director of al-Damir (Conscience) for Human Rights in Gaza, told MENASSAT, "The American decision comes in the greater context of the American war on media institutions that it categorizes as terrorist and inciting violence because they are affiliated with groups they say are terrorist groups."

"I see the decision as being against all the international laws and agreements recognizing freedom of speech and expression, and the right of every citizen anywhere in the world to ensure getting information without directly affecting others' interests," he said.

Concerning the procedures to prevent the approval of such outside governmental decisions, Abu Shamala said, "Activist organizations such as ours will put added pressure on the political administration in the U.S. and the international community at large so that this decision doesn't include other media outlets such as al-Jazeera and al-Manar."

Arab media charter

Other critics in Gaza have urged the U.N. not to allow the U.S. administration to take such decisions, criticizing at the same time the recent decision by Arab Foreign Ministers to attempt to regulate Arab satellite broadcasters with the Arab Media Charter.

Indeed, Fatkhi Hamad, al-Aqsa general manager said he considers the Arab Media Charter as encouraging the American decision.

If the decision becomes law in the United States, Hamad said, "We are taking many alternative steps to ensure the continuity of our broadcast, mainly by getting in contact with the Arab League given that it owns the ArabSat satellite that we broadcast from."

Hamad has urged Arab governments, media institutions and prominent members of the entertainment and political community to oppose any U.S. decision to ban Arab media or put restrictions on its broadcasting.

What it really means

Hazem Badaro, the deputy editor-in-chief of the Ramtan news agency in Gaza, was surprised at the American decision.

"The decision to act because of the subjects broadcast by this channel… No one has the right to ban it or impose financial penalties on it. No one."

But Badaro also told MENASSAT that a U.S. attempt to ban al-Aqsa is really just an exercise to make a political point.

"If the U.S. adds al-Aqsa to the list of terrorist entities, it doesn't mean it can ban the channel. It could take other steps such as presenting a formal complaint to the country or the satellite companies that broadcast the station, or it can simply ban its broadcast on its own territories. But that's about it."

Few people in the local Palestinian press have said much about the bill, opting to take what Variety magazine called a "wait-and-see" approach to the issue.

TV executives from ArabSat and NileSat (Egypt), which both broadcast al-Aqsa, have also refrained from commenting.