Thursday, August 24, 2006

the revolution must not be televised

a new york man has been arrested for broadcasting "hizbollah tv":

U.S. authorities have arrested a New York man for broadcasting Hizbollah television station al-Manar, which has been designated a terrorist entity by the U.S. Treasury Department, prosecutors said on Thursday.

Javed Iqbal, 42, was arrested on Wednesday because his Brooklyn-based company HDTV Ltd. was providing New York-area customers with the Hizbollah-operated channel, federal prosecutors said in a statement.

It did not say how long Iqbal's company had been providing satellite broadcasts of al-Manar, which the U.S. Treasury Department in March had designated as Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity, making it a crime to conduct business with al-Manar.

Iqbal has been charged with conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, the statement said. Federal authorities searched HDTV's Brooklyn office and Iqbal's Staten Island home, where Iqbal was suspected of maintaining satellite dishes, the statement said.

The U.S. Treasury Department froze U.S. assets of al-Manar in March, saying it supported fund-raising and recruitment activities of Hizbollah, a Shiite Muslim group backed by Syria and Iran that has been at war with Israel in southern Lebanon.

this strikes me as a tricky first amendment issue. after reading on wikipedia about the kinds of material al manar broadcasts, i can't say i approve of the content. it's one thing to be pro-palestinian; it's another to publicly fantasize about killing ariel sharon.

some people will probably laud this action as a justified attempt to shut down terrorist propaganda; others will decry it as censorship of the pro-lebanese, pro-palestinian point of view. both groups will probably be right to some extent. but where do free speech rights end?

while it could be argued that al manar has no first amendment rights because it is broadcast out of lebanon (and thus US law doesn't apply), what about javen iqbar's rights as a tv service provider? the IEEPA prevents people and companies in the US from doing business with organizations that have been branded "terrorist organizations". but re-broadcasting a tv signal is not necessary "doing business" (at least not if no money is exchanged and no contract signed; if iqbal signed a contract with hizbollah, it's no longer a free speech issue).

in the struggle to preserve first amendment freedoms, potentially offensive material is the most important to defend. the first amendment gives us the right to piss people off or upset them with our speech, and that right must be vigorously defended. but there is some content that "crosses the line"—child pornography is one example, because its very production harms the children it features. is the content on al manar really so awful that the government's interest in shutting it down outweighs the first amendment issues involved with banning with an entire network? maybe it is, but americans will not be able to make that choice for themselves, because they are not allowed to view the broadcasts.


sis said...

they gov't is just taking away bit by bit and we sit and watch....

Technologist said...

IEEPA explicitly protects "importation" of news, including commercial operations. See, for example, for details of the law.