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Satellite TV Stations: Too Late to Control - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The first Arab satellite TV station, MBC, was born 17 years ago. Since then satellite TV stations have mushroomed to the extent that no one today knows precisely how many stations are directed to the Arab region, but they exceed 500.

Even though talk about prohibiting satellites began from the first day that receivers were smuggled, Arab information ministers decided earlier this summer to formulate a charter that puts satellite stations under their laws and authority. If they go ahead with this, you can bet that they will fail.

They’ve awoken too late, after rooftops in cities and villages became covered with TV dishes. What is motivating them now is that “the damage” has reached the majority of the governments. Before, the satellite stations used to target a few select governments. Today every opposition has its station, and there is opposition to every government. The complaints are no longer political or governmental. Many different establishments have begun asking for intervention, for there are stations that have appeared for imposters who not only sell political programs but also rent them out to crooks who make medical claims such as curing cancer or who read fortunes for exorbitant amounts. There is a warning of satellite wars between followers of various religions–Shiite, Sunni and Christians–and there are verbal wars among tribes conducted in verse and prose.

This is what has widened the circle of those desirous of establishing an Arab collective media authority to come to grips with the open space. It is tempting for all the Arab information ministers, including those who used to flaunt rejection loudly, to carry out their campaigns under other plausible pretexts to silence the hostile stations.

But the kind ministers are not wont to discuss everything frankly, so they suffice with talking about generalities, and with a language that is bloated with ambiguity, for the problem is political and it is the primary motivation behind their desire to grip the reins of satellite stations. But most of the stations are affiliated to governments or to pro-government militias, so who decides and which station?

Furthermore, as there is no agreement in policy, there is no agreement on the meaning of the word objectionable or on what is taboo. Some of them consider the telephone SMS flirting stations to be rejected on moral grounds. Others reject this because they consider it a financial theft. There are differences over the meaning of the term licentious, which was used in some official statements. Some want to cloak the stations with a religious veil. Others consider bikinis their minimum.

If we assume that the ministers would remain silent over the stations of one another and direct their efforts to purging Arab space of the stations of the medical quacks alone, the problem would be that they have no means of blocking reception. Any one who finds one satellite blocking its doors will turn to rent a shop on another satellite, and so on. If they were expelled from all the present satellites, they will find merchants to launch new satellites. The issue therefore is beyond control. The ministers ought to acknowledge the limitations of their powers and realize that all they can do is to improve their performance as the best means of defense–instead of hounding the evil stations.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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