December 10, 2004 | Broadcast

Wolf Blitzer Reports


CNN’s Brian Todd has the story.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a region long since overtaken by the explosion of satellite TV and 24-hour programming, where criticism of the U.S. or Israel can be found with virtually any click, one network has some observers and governments doing a double take. AVI JORISCH, AUTHOR, BEACON OF HATRED: Al-Manar makes Al Jazeera look like a Girl Scout cookie infomercial.

TODD: Al-Manar, Arabic for “the beacon,” has become a guiding light for critics who accuse the station of being the propaganda arm of the militant Shiite group Hezbollah which bombed the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983.

JORISCH: The station is looking to inspire what we call in the West, quote/unquote, “suicide attacks,” and what they call, quote/unquote, “martyrdom operations.” They are very open about the fact that they support rhetorically these types of attacks against American soldiers and against Israelis.

TODD: A charge flatly denied by the network. Still, there’s concern, reinforced by images of a skeletal Statue of Liberty dripping blood.

BUSH: We’re going to hunt them down one by one.


TODD: Or of Hitler and his forces juxtaposed with President Bush and his. According to The New York Times, one Al-Manar broadcast claims Israel spread the AIDS virus and other diseases throughout the Arab world. A top official at Al-Manar admits philosophical agreements with Hezbollah but denies that the network takes its marching orders from the group.

We asked him how his station views the United States.

IBRAHIM MONSAWI, DIR. OF POLITICAL PROGRAMS, AL-MANAR: George W. Bush says that he’s a friend of the peace and he’s a peaceful man. So I mean, this is a distorting the realities and the facts. But we have never broadcast anything to incite hatred.

TODD (on camera): Still there is pressure on governments and the distributors of Al-Manar to crack down on the network or to shut it down. But it seems no one wants their fingerprints on this controversy.

(voice-over): The French government wants to stop the network’s distribution there. But France’s highest administrative judicial body must rule on whether the government has that right since Al-Manar has a license for satellite broadcasts in that country. A decision could come within a few days.

Al-Manar can be seen in the United States via satellite although not over the major direct-to-home satellite subscription services. Only those with private dishes and receivers can get the signal. Still, this U.S. access comes, despite the fact that Al-Manar’s’s alleged benefactor, Hezbollah, is designated a terrorist organization by the State Department.

We asked a spokesman if the State Department could take any action against Al-Manar. ADAM ERELI, STATE DEPT. SPOKESMAN: I think Al-Manar — we have gone on the record on numerous occasions in response to what we consider to be — I’m trying to think of a harsh enough word for it, we consider to be disgusting programming that preaches hatred and violence. For more, I refer you to the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission.

TODD: We called the Federal Communications Commission, an official there tells CNN that because Al-Manar is broadcast over satellite and is not an American network, it’s not subject to FCC regulation.

Corporate responsibility is even murkier. We were originally told Intelsat distributes Al-Manar in the U.S. But Intelsat officials tell us their company is merely the wholesale operator that sells bulk satellite capacity to service providers.

They referred us to a service provider GlobeCast North America. An official there acknowledged that Al-Manar is one of nine Arabic channels it retransmits into the U.S. But he says GlobeCast is paid by a Saudi-based company called Arabsat to bring in those channels and Arabsat is responsible for its contest.

Top officials at Arabsat could not be reached for comment.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.