October 3, 2005 | Wall Street Journal

Advertising on Terror TV

Co-authored by: Roberta Bonazzi.

In one episode of the 29-part Ramadan special “Al-Shatat, The Diaspora,” a rabbi orders his young son to kidnap a Christian friend so that his throat can be slit and the blood drained into a bedpan to be used to make food for Passover. The rest of the series tells the usual anti-Semitic plot of alleged Jewish aspirations for world domination. This TV show is just one example of the programming run by Hezbollah's global satellite channel, al-Manar. While the spread of this kind of hatred is despicable in any context, when it is broadcast to millions of viewers by terrorists intent on destroying lives, it becomes a weapon of global jihad.

Al-Manar routinely runs videos encouraging children to become suicide bombers, calls for terrorists to attack coalition soldiers in Iraq, and promises that “martyrs” will be rewarded in the afterlife.

Hezbollah established al-Manar in 1991 as an operational weapon to incite hatred and violence and recruit children and adults as terrorists. According to al-Manar officials interviewed by Hezbollah expert Avi Jorisch for his book “Beacon of Hatred,” the station's programming is meant to “help people on the way to committing what you call in the West a suicide mission.” Viewers are told: “The path to becoming a priest in Islam is through jihad,” as Hezbollah's Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech on March 23, 2002. Every day al-Manar reaches millions of Arabic speakers in the Middle East, Europe and North Africa.

But these are the only areas where the station is available today, thanks to a broad coalition of organizations and individuals — Muslim, Christian, Jewish and secular — as well as lawmakers in the U.S., Europe, Asia and Latin America. When made aware of al-Manar's programming, seven satellite providers — based in France, Spain, Holland, Hong Kong, Australia and Barbados — decided that it was contrary to laws or basic decency, and ceased their broadcasts. These satellite providers recognized that far from being a freedom of expression issue, calls to murder can never be a legitimate part of the public debate.

But two satellite companies continue to broadcast the station's programming: Arabsat, whose largest shareholder is the Saudi government, and Nilesat, which is majority-owned by the Egyptian government. The footprint of these two providers covers all of Europe, from Spain to southern Sweden and the Balkans. It extends to North Africa and the Middle East. As a result, Arabic speakers in Paris, London, Madrid and elsewhere continue to have access to a station that fosters a culture of terrorism 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As al-Manar's former chairman Nayef Krayem said, “There is no act of resistance that can be classified as terrorism.” The European Union must pressure the Saudi and Egyptian governments to stop broadcasting this hatred to impressionable young Muslims in Europe.

That's the political part of the fight against al-Manar. But there is also a commercial side to it. While a large part of al-Manar's operating budget comes from Iran, a significant portion is derived from ad revenue. There are a handful of multinational corporations that still advertise on al-Manar, indirectly endorsing its message of hatred and violence and directly supporting its operations by paying for air time.

Within the past few months, al-Manar broadcast ads for products from the following companies: Nissan, the Japanese car manufacturer; LG, the Korean electronics maker; Tefal, a producer of home cooking products and subsidiary of France-based Groupe SEB; Jovial, a manufacturer of Swiss watches; and Cellis-Alpha, a cellular SIM card provider owned by Fal Dete Telecommunications, a Saudi-German consortium majority-owned by Detecon, which in turn is a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom.

We contacted the companies but their explanations were not very satisfactory. A spokesman for Tefal denied that its products were ever advertised on al-Manar. A spokesman for Nissan said the company was unaware that its ads were running on al-Manar; after investigating the matter he said the spots were placed by a local dealer, and that the ads would stop at year's end. The head of the LG liaison office in Lebanon said the ads were placed by a local agent and only during the recent Lebanese elections because al-Manar attracted a particularly large number of viewers during that time. He said he favored not advertising on al-Manar again but said that he had to first discuss it with LG's regional headquarters in Dubai. A spokesman for Jovial was not able to comment and did not provide further details on the company's position. Fal-Dete-Telecommunications also said they were not aware of the situation and that they are taking the matter seriously. They are currently inquiring with their partners in Lebanon. They also pointed out that they are not the owner of the Alfa network but they are managing it on behalf of the Republic of Lebanon for a period of four years.

While it is possible that these companies were not always aware that their ads were being placed on al-Manar, ignorance in this case is no excuse. Many of the world's largest corporations — including Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble and Western Union — stopped buying time on al-Manar more than three years ago when they realized what their ad dollars were supporting. Those companies still advertising on al-Manar should follow the example of the many governments and private and public firms that have ended their relationship with al-Manar. They should immediately pull any remaining ads and institute a permanent ban on future advertising.

European lives and values are under attack by Islamic extremists. Responsible companies should have no relationship with terrorist organizations. To do otherwise is to send a worrying signal to their customers, a message that seems to say that their lives are worth less than the sale of a few extra cars, watches, cellphones and home cooking products. At the very least, that cannot be good for business.

Mr. Dubowitz is chief operating officer of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies which organized the Coalition Against Terrorist Media (www.stopterroristmedia.org). Ms. Bonazzi is the director of the Brussels-based European Foundation for Democracy and a founding member of the Coalition Against Terrorist Media.