HEZBOLLAH’S terrorist television station is once again being beamed into Australia. Al-Manar, translated as “the beacon”, has been called more accurately a beacon of hatred and violence. It is to be hoped that the Rudd Government and the Australian Communications and Media Authority are doing everything in their power to block the station, as has been done in the past.
This is in no way hypocritical, nor does it undermine Australia’s commitment to freedom of speech.
Even in societies whose commitment to freedom of speech is as strong as Australia’s, there are limits to that freedom, such as where the speech incites violence or racial hatred.
Indeed, this balancing has already occurred here for stations such as Al-Manar. In 2005, ACMA proposed new standards prohibiting broadcasts that directly supported terrorist organisations. These standards were the direct result of an ACMA investigation into Al-Manar the previous year. And ACMA has acted again since then to have the station removed from satellites that broadcast into Australia.
Significantly, Australia is not alone in drawing a line between freedom of speech and incitement to violence. The US, France, Canada and the European Union have banned their nationals from broadcasting Hezbollah’s TV station into their territories because of the station’s message and its dominance by a terrorist organisation.
The prohibition is well deserved. Al-Manar acts as the propaganda arm of Hezbollah, helping to raise money for, and recruit members to, the terrorist organisation. The group and its TV station demonise the West and incite violence against it, repeatedly calling for resistance against coalition forces in Iraq and glorifying terrorism, with videos showing suicide bombers detonating themselves. Al-Manar also helps to perpetuate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by stoking violence against Israel.
In one example, a child dressed as Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah repeats one of his speeches to a crowd of children, some of whom are dressed in suicide vests to punish the “Zionist enemy”.
Other programs extol the virtue of jihad and suicide operations, calling for death to Israel by exploding bodies.
The station spreads anti-Semitism by perpetuating noxious anti-Jewish myths and conspiracy theories, such as the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion, blood libel and the lie that Jews were behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in 2003, the station broadcast a 30-part anti-Semitic series, one episode for each night, depicting a supposed Jewish global government.
If claims that Al-Manar is popular among Arabic speakers in Australia are true, it is even more important to stop it influencing and inflaming its audience.
Al-Manar cannot be separated from Hezbollah’s military wing. Although the terrorist group holds seats in the Lebanese parliament, it makes no distinction between its armed and political branches. Al-Manar, likewise, promotes Hezbollah’s political as well as military messages, be it its so-called resistance against Israel or attempts to justify the group turning its arms on Lebanese people, as it did recently.
And, as we all know, money is fungible. Hezbollah’s funding of Al-Manar cannot be separated from the funding of its armed branch.
So what could the Government do? First, capitalising on its friendly relations, it should reach out diplomatically to the Indonesian and Qatari governments – both of which own shares in the satellite company that broadcasts the station – as well as private shareholders and impress on them the importance of removing Al-Manar from the menu of channels available on the satellite.
The Indonesian Government has made significant strides in the past several years in combating its militant problem. Broadcasting the propaganda of a foreign terrorist group to Indonesians as well as to populations throughout Southeast Asia and Australia is clearly not in Indonesia’s interests. Consistent with those interests, it is to be hoped that the responsible leadership we have seen in public and private domains in both countries will come to the fore on this issue.
The Rudd Government should also pursue all domestic legal measures available to it. It is almost certainly illegal under Australian law to provide support to Hezbollah, a banned terrorist organisation, and, by extension, to its TV station. The Government should determine whether any Australian nationals own part of the satellite company and, if so, take appropriate legal action. The Government should do the same for any Australians found to be facilitating the broadcast of Al-Manar in Australia.
Al-Manar spreads a dangerous and violent message in its role as a Hezbollah mouthpiece. It should not be able to use Australia’s airwaves to disseminate such poison to undermine our harmonious multicultural society.
Colin Rubenstein is the executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Counci