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Hezbollah TV Still OK in Australia

14/08/2009

There’s a minor row brewing in Australia over radicalisation, terrorism and the internet. Oz telecom watchdogs, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) have declared that Hezbollah’s al-Manar television station does not contravene ACMA’s own anti-terrorism regulations.

It’s unclear from the coverage of this issue exactly how Australians are accessing al-Manar, but we must assume that the internet is the principal vehicle. Al-Manar also comes bundled with other obscure channels as part of subscription packages (by Indonesian provider, PT Indosat). It certainly isn’t available as standard.

The complaint of lobby groups and others is that in the same week as Australia came face-to-face with its own homegrown terrorists, ACMA found that a proscribed terrorist organisation’s ‘public service’ output did not fall foul of Australian media guidelines. In their opinion, the al-Manar programmes they sampled simply didn’t breach the standards ACMA have set as regards incitement to violence and racial hatred, attempted recruitment, and raising of finances. For others, al-Manar can only serve to radicalise disaffected Muslims – principally Somali, I would guess, judging by the possible role of al-Shabaab in the recent bomb plot.

It may be true that ACMA’s sample was too small. Al-Manar certainly has a record of terrorist propaganda, so it would be somewhat disingenuous to argue that it does not engage in such things. ACMA does not do this, so for the time being Australians should accept its ruling. Let’s also be clear about another point – ACMA has been at the heart of Australia’s push towards internet censorship of many different types of content, so can hardly be accused of being ‘soft’ on terrorism.

I’m not in favour of quangos determining what people can and cannot view. If this continues to be a live issue then it is up to the Australian government to intervene and either enforce the law as pertains to terrorist media, or to back ACMA’s findings in full. Subsequent investigations by ACMA may find differently, of course.

The recent terrorist plot has undoubtedly shocked Australians. Luckily, it did not occur as a down-under version of 9/11 or 7/7, but similar kneejerk reactions are to be expected, if not condoned, in its wake.  Censorship is rarely successful in practical or political terms and, in the case of the internet, is likely to be circumvented entirely. For the time being, let the ACMA ruling stand.