Sunday, February 17, 2008

The "Fairness Doctrine"... Arab style

Striking similarities in US DNC Congressional sniffings at revitalizing the "Fairness Doctrine" here in the States and the Cairo charter, 'Principles for Regulating Satellite TV in the Arab World' just voted in by the League of Arab States.

From al Jazeera's
"Arab media code 'risk to freedom'":

Al Jazeera has said a code adopted by Arab states to govern satellite broadcasting could shackle freedom of expression.

Arab information ministers meeting on Tuesday in Cairo endorsed the charter, which allows host countries to annul or suspend the licence of any broadcaster found in violation of the rules it sets.

The Cairo document stipulates that satellite channels "should not damage social harmony, national unity, public order or traditional values".

It says that programming should also "conform with the religious and ethical values of Arab society and take account of its family structure".


All members of the
22-member Arab League had voted in favour of the document, with only Qatar and Lebanon opposing.

Egypt's information minister said they'd be the first to implement the charter, saying "Some satellite channels have strayed from the correct path."

The Cairo charter stipulates that channels should "refrain from broadcasting anything which calls into question God, the monotheistic religions, the prophets, sects or symbols of the various religious communities".

It says broadcasters should avoid "erotic or obscene material" or programmes that "encourage smoking or the consumption of alcohol", the latter prohibited by Islam.

They should also "protect Arab identity from the harmful effects of globalisation".

al Jazeera is correctly pointing out that by the host countries regulating what licensees can and will broadcast, they are threatening the very core of free speech by "...trying to impose a curtain of censorship over the provision of information and simple provision of views."

What's also particularly disconcerting is that both Iraq and UAE Arab League ministers voted in favor of this new draconian censorship.

Consider a similar battle in Congress where Dems... feeling persecuted for the demise of multiple liberal talk radio shows in the free market... are seeking to revitalize the decades old "Fairness Doctrine" by mandating equal time for opposing view points. Statements from Dick Durbin to Norm Coleman from a July 2007 article...

“I would ask the senator if he believes in the interest of an educated electorate, whether he thinks Americans could hear both sides of the story, a kind of fair and balanced approach when it comes to information?” asked Sen. [Dick] Durbin.


“Does the senator concede that the airwaves belong to the American people?” asked Sen. Durbin. “Those who profit from them do by permission of the people … and that those who use those airwaves should do it responsibly and should seek to provide both points of view, both sides of the story, so that Americans can reach a decision.”

Oddly enuf, Durbin's statement ".. those who use those airwaves should do it responsibly" bears little difference to the Cairo Charter's "should not damage social harmony, national unity, public order or traditional values" language. i.e the DNC shares the belief that governing bodies must protect people from information. But in the US, it is cleverly disguised as protecting people from the DNC's perceived "lack of" information.

This argument might hold water if there weren't existing formats for disseminating opposing views. Not to mention there are also opportunities for yet another new liberal radio format to replace the latest failed liberal format. However, even sans a notably effective radio presence, there is a plethora of left driven media, all formats.

Therefore what we take away from Durbin's statements is that the DNC believes the imaginary loss of opposing viewpoints (or perhaps not owning total domination over all formats...) is "damaging" to the American electorate. And this they need to fix.

The Cairo charter or the Fairness Doctrine - either one, once imposed, begs the question, "where are the boundary lines drawn?" Does this apply to NYT's op-eds as well as Rush Limbaugh? Will we be hearing Glenn Beck on Air America for their mandated "opposition talking points time"? And what constitutes "one side"? Are there really only "two" views on any issue? Mind boggling...

What will this mean for the Arab League States? The Lebanese and Qatar have rejected the broadcast restrictions, but are a serious minority. Individuals in Iraq and Lebanon are standing up in some way or another to radicalization efforts, or loss of new found freedoms. Will such a draconian backstep inspire other Muslims to stand up and say "I'm mad, and I'm not going to take it anymore!"?

It could be that this is not a wise move for the Arab League. But only time will tell.

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