In mid-December, 2009, the House of Representatives passed a bill making it possible to prosecute the owners of transmitting satellites, not just the TV networks, for spreading anti-American propaganda from and in the Middle East. The bill, which clearly targets channels such as Hizballah's Al-Manar or Hamas' Al-Aqsa, will require the president to present an annual report on anti-American incitement in the region.
Although it still needs the Senate's approval, the bill has been a matter of discussion for quite some time. The irony is that Arabsat, for instance, is the "carrier" for both, Al-Manar and Al-Aqsa, while it is also the conveyance for America's Alhurra TV (read more on the details and possible ramifications on Layalina Review and on Kim Andrew Elliot's blog).
The question, of course, is not just whether the coverage falls under "Clear and Present Danger" (to justify the breach of the First Amendment), but also whether the US is becoming increasingly intolerant of any criticism. Public diplomacy is being flushed down the drain, while the Americans are seen - once again - as trying to impose their own rules and laws, based on their likes and dislikes, on people they are desperately trying to reach out to.
Double standards? Too many contradictory messages.
Not only is this confusing and frustrating for the Arab public, but it also provides one more reason to distrust and dislike America: not only for the terrorists that were supposedly targeted by the bill, but also for the countries that are considered to be American allies (another irony, since Egypt and Saudi Arabia were the ones to take up pro-active measures in response to the bill).
Yes, propaganda is bad. But imposition and oppression of rights is not better, either. If the bill becomes law, American PD - around the world - will suffer a major blow. Instead, extra efforts should have been made in reaching out to the local public with a message that truly appeals to them, and with a strong argument that would confront and discredit the "terrorist propaganda", instead of fueling it.
Here is Al Jazeera's take on the matter (the satellite network will also be affected by the legislation). The entire first half of The Listening Post this week deals with the issue.
Need to watch Al Jazeera. Even if just once in a while...