In this week’s issue of The Nation, I have a short piece on an absurd and misplaced bit of legislation that will hopefully soon die in the Senate, despite its overwhelming passage in the House. The full link is here, but it is behind a subscriber firewall — more reason to subscribe?
TERRORIST TV? In December the House passed a bill to sanction and label as terrorists Arab satellite providers that air “anti-American incitement to violence in the Middle East.” Though the bill targets the channels of Hamas, Hezbollah and other designated terrorist organizations, its broad language has been criticized as an attack on media expression in the Arab world.
Barely reported in the American press, the proposed legislation has simmered in Arabic newspapers and talk shows. In late January Arab information ministers met in Cairo, where they summarily denounced the bill, although the Arab League has been mulling over its own plans for increased satellite censorship.
HR 2278 defines anti-American incitement to violence as “the act of persuading, encouraging, instigating, advocating, pressuring, or threatening so as to cause another to commit a violent act against any person, agent, instrumentality, or official of, is affiliated with, or is serving as a representative of the United States.” The bill directs the president to submit an annual report to Congress with “a country-by-country list and description of media outlets that engage in anti-American incitement to violence” as well as a list of the satellite providers that carry such broadcasts.
But it is the provision to tag as terrorists “satellite providers that knowingly and willingly contract with entities designated as Specially Designated Global Terrorists” that rattles observers. “Take something like Khaled Meshal, who’s the political leader of Hamas,” Marc Lynch, an Arab media specialist at George Washington University, told WNYC. “No self-respecting Arab TV station can afford to not interview him. So if they’re going to define any contact with Khaled Meshal as incitement to anti-American violence, then pretty much every TV station would have something to fear.”
Reporters Without Borders condemned the resolution as “discriminatory” and lacking “clarity.” The bill “contradicts American support for media freedom and could not be implemented in the Middle East today as crafted without causing great damage,” the organization said in a statement.
The bill passed by a wide margin of 395-3 in the House. The “nays” were two Texans, Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson and Republican Ron Paul, and Democrat Mike Honda of California. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is reviewing the measure. FREDERICK DEKNATEL