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

Australia’s Parliament and main stream media may not differ all that much from other western countries when it comes to chronic groveling to its Zionist lobby. But like citizens in many countries, Australians sometimes courageously 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 much anticipated 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 stations programming would, even if banned, still be available via internet live streaming.

“The Beacon”

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 ordered international 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 (Australia’s Communication and Media Authority) in 2009 and now again in 2010.

How ACMA arrived at its decision

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 program 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 however, issue a caveat regarding two of the above listed programs, With the Event and With the Viewer.

A majority of the ACMA board 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 demeanor 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 famed 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 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.