Human rights groups and activists in Egypt and across the Middle East are angered over an American Congress decision to penalize Arab satellite channels that are deemed “enemies of the United States.” Already, the sentiments are that the move is a major setback in terms of freedom of speech and expression.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) said the bill “represented a sharp additional decline on the US promises to improve its poor record in civil and political freedoms locally and internationally.”
The United States is largely seen as a “”protector” of media and free speech despite recent years of attempts to curtail Arab networks from entering the American market. “How are they going to determine who is an enemy of the US?” said Hassan al-Naggar, a local media analyst. “Will this mean that Al Jazeera is an enemy, since the Americans did bomb it before? It just doesn’t make sense in terms of their ideology of freedom and such.”
Congress passed the bill that imposes sanctions on satellite channels’ content that could be interpreted as being “hostile to the United States” on 8 December. It came as a response to accusations that a number of channels were supervising “terrorist organizations.” Ironically, the bill comes just weeks after Qatar-based Al Jazeera was given the go ahead to broadcast in Canada. ”
“This bill severely conflicts with international standards and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified by the United States, and is an iteration of many of the serious mistakes with which the former US administration has flooded both US citizens and Arabs,” a statement from ANHRI said. “However, when the bill is proposed at that time, while President Obama is in office, it is considered a crime and an extortion, especially as the law seems to have been drafted in a way similar to that of law tailors of Egypt, to siege and contain specific satellite TV channels.”
Mr Naggar agrees, arguing that because the world has much respect for Obama, “they should have dealt with this differently, instead of passing a bill, they should have done something different. It tarnishes Obama’s struggling image.”
The Arabic Network added that “the threat of penalizing channels that broadcast ‘hostile’ or ‘terrorist’ content without an identification or definition of these loose terms, is considered bullying, especially that these terms may imply material that support the right to resist Israeli occupation of Palestine or the American occupation of Iraq. There is such a great difference between terrorism and resistance.”
Congress hopes the new legislation, which requires the President to issue an annual report on anti-American sentiments in broadcasting, will create more equitable television viewing that leaves violence off American air waves.
But for ANHRI and Mr Naggar, it is too much. ANHRI has called on global rights groups to condemn the bill.
“I think they are right to call for condemnation because this sort of thing will only foster more hatred and create divisions between America and the Arab world,” added Mr Naggar.