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Sun

31

Jan

2010

Lebanon and the Middle East continue to reject H.R. 2278 as tensions rise
Sunday, 31 January 2010 15:58
by Franklin Lamb (Ph.D.), Beirut
Why doesn’t the US Embassy in Beirut ‘get it’?

It is being reported in Beirut last week that at exactly 3 a.m. Beirut time, a supporter of the National Lebanese Resistance led by Hezbollah, on duty above the Mediterranean coastal town of Saadyat, between Damour and Saida was watching the skies of over Beirut for signs of Israeli aircraft, which daily violate Lebanese airspace.

What sources report to this observer was that he saw a Boeing 737-800 aircraft which had taken off from Rafiq Hariri airport gain altitude as it headed for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Hezbollah, on full military alert these days, presumably called in the report to Al Manar (the Dawn) station which it founded in 1991 and which since 2004 has been on one o the various US Terrorism lists.

As Lebanese woke to the news this morning an estimated 80% of the population is thought to have turned into Al Manar at least once sometime between the hours of 7 am and 11 am, as they and the region regularly do during war or crisis. The reason is Al Manar’s reputation for accuracy, thoroughness and objectivity and getting the latest news on the air fast.

Al Manar was the first Lebanese station to give the most details including the fact that 90 passengers were on board and that at press time 40 bodies, including that of the wife of the French Ambassador, Marla Pieton have been found. No survivors have been found so far and as of 5 p.m. local time on 1/25/10 flotsam and jetsam from the aircraft is being brought in by the stormy sea along Beirut’s beaches including Ramlet el Baida.
Ironically, staff at the American Embassy, and surely the large contingent of CIA agents here, almost certainly sat glued to Al Manar to evaluate what really has happened. If the US Israeli lobby succeeds in passing H.R. 2278 on the Senate side of Congress, US officials may be deprived of this reliable source of information.

As for the Lebanese, they continue their opposition to H.R. 2278 widely seen as an American-Israeli assault on more than 400 TV channels based in Lebanon, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

A continuing crescendo is rising of regional cries of gross hypocrisy, attacks on freedom of expression, aggression against the 19 black listed countries, and violations of Article 19 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights which reads: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

The State Department reaction has been, to feign surprise, “what’s all the fuss about”, while insisting that potentially closing down more than 400 Middle East TV channels is no big deal and has nothing to do with freedom of speech and access to information which is a cornerstone of the “New Middle East Project.” which seems not to have faded along with its former cheerleader Condoleezza Rice.

At noon on 1/17/10 a crowded news conference was held at Lebanon’s Syndicate de Presse near the sea at Raouche. Dozens of local and international media attended as Lebanese officials called for a withdrawal of the hostile measure, which is currently before John Kerrey’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The National Lebanese Council for Audio-Visual Media and the Lebanese Press Association on 1/23/10 urged the United States to reverse a decision to take "punitive measures" against a satellite channels in the Middle East. The Council hinted that it will resort to banning from Lebanese airwaves US-networks such as Cable News Network (CNN) and others financed by the US.

Council head Abdel Hadi Mahfouz speaking at a news conference on 1/23/10 stated that if the US bill is adopted, “for sure we as an independent council will cut off transmissions of US-based stations such as CNN and (US-backed Arabic satellite channel) al-Houra by asking cable distributors in Lebanon not to air such channels."

"We have expressed our refusal for such a legal measure (ed: H.R. 2278) against channels which the US has listed, without giving us any evidence, as Arab terrorist entities," said Mahfouz.

Meanwhile, following the intense grilling US officials who dare set foot on Lebanese soil have been receiving as reported last week in Counterpunch, the US Embassy’s disconnect here continues.

The American Embassy's Public Affairs Officer, Ryan Gliha, told representatives of local news portals on 1/22/10, that “This is only a bill (meaning a draft-law, he explained) that was only passed by the House of Representatives. In order for it become law, it has to be passed by the Senate and signed by the President.”

On the subject of whether H.R. 2278 represented the view of the Obama Administration, the Embassy press officer answered; “The Obama administration "doesn't have an official position on it because it is still an idea," the diplomat stressed. The response did not satisfy some who were present.

Then Mr. Gilha added "This is not a question of freedom of speech. It is about al-Manar which is owned by Hizbullah… The U.S. government believes there is no difference between a terrorist organization and a media outlet run by it.

The comment made clear to many in Lebanon and the region, that indeed the AIPAC initiative was purely political and the effect of the proposed law on freedom of speech and Art. 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was not of interest to the 395 members who voted for it or those defending the measure.

Mr. Gliha’s language that potentially shutting much of the Middle East TV Channels “ just an idea “ is suspect by some here and gives rise to more questions to be answered by the State Department and its Embassy staff in the affected countries as well as the international community that is obliged to defend freedom of speech and expression.

Given the past quarter century of the US Congress churning out all manner of Resolutions, Letters to the President or Secretary of State, and enacting many laws demanded by Israel that are against American vital national security interest, and the fact that H.R. 2278 breezed through House side Congressional ‘deliberations’ with barely a word being uttered, by a vote of 395 to 3, made the Embassy’s Press Office statement about “just an idea” appear absurd and disingenuous.

A question being asked increasing by Lebanese officials and Arab League Information Ministers who met in Cairo over the weekend is: “Will the US government provide to the region a written Report that details why the American government believes the Lebanese and other TV channels covered by H.R. 2278 “incites violence against American civilians?”

Lebanon and the region await the answer from Washington DC.

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon and can be reached at fplamb@gmail.com

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