August 27, 2006

Illegal Speech

There are plenty of things I don't want to listen to. Religious channels, for one thing. I find them alternately boring or unnerving whenever I have the misfortune to flip by them. Don't get me started on the monstrosity that is the 700 Club. Christ. And I can't say I care for most family programming, either. There are these people called writers, some of them are good enough to come up with dialogue that can entertain people regardless of the subject matter, look into it. Ditto for the Tissue Box Movie of the Week. Misericordia y lástima, por favor. FOX News practically gives me the hives just catching a glimpse of the scare graphics and neanderthal-foreheaded pundits, which is why I surf through the news channel block only while looking into my scrying glass; their station has no reflection.

But they all have the freedom to broadcast their perfectly atrocious content, no matter the sorts of urges they inspire in me. In return, I get to write contentedly on my website about how much I despise them. I get to publicly relay opinions which, if they knew about them, would probably irritate my ideological opponents every bit as much as theirs irritate me.

This is the true beauty of freedom of speech: It's the freedom to irritate the snot out of people by saying things they really wish you wouldn't.

There are reasonable restrictions on this, the classic shouting 'fire' in a theater being one. Nonconsensual activities or prohibited activities with minors seem like another reasonable restriction. Now apparently there's a new restriction, which concerns information from sources deemed to be terrorist. That concerns me.

Digby talks about a New York Times story concerning a man arrested for rebroadcasting a Hezbollah station as part of a satellite television package that he'd been selling for what seems to be years. I'd feel confident, without having watched it, in adding Al Manar to my list of things I don't want to watch. But.

I've also been a nominal member of the media (hah!) for some time now and in theory there might actually be some news on Al Manar. News has this irritating habit of involving people who dislike America and its allies, so it might come to there being some footage on this station worth discussing. Not speaking Arabic, access to Al Manar is unlikely to be of use to me even if there is news on it, but what about a station like CNN? Are they now not allowed to watch Al Manar if ever they bothered? Would they be in violation of the law to package Al Manar footage for rebroadcast as part of a news spot? Is Al Manar now something a little like weed in B.C.; illegal to sell but legal to possess and consume in certain quantities with a medical media exemption? Is the U.S. government now in the position of allowing the broadcast of select footage from Osama bin Laden's videos, but not Hezbollah's? Could rebroadcasts of footage or audio from state media in countries that the Bush administration views as hostile, like Venezuela, be added to a list of proscribed sources?

And the big question: Is it illegal to stream Al Manar over the internet?

If it is, would the property of hosting, server or search engine companies providing links or access to Al Manar be in jeopardy? Could private computers be seized for containing files downloaded from such a stream? Are we going to have a U.S. version of China's internet policy, which enforces compliance at the service-provider level with the government's ideological restrictions on content access?

As you can see, I have a lot of questions about this that spring from thinking like a blogger. But these segue into questions that I should be asking as a citizen. I've been a voter for longer than I've been a blogger and take the responsibility of informed consent very seriously. It may be the case that a national decision needs to be made concerning a group or nation whose communication channels to the outside world have been made illegal by my government. Given the serious nature of these matters, I'll likely contact a member of the House or Senate to express my opinion as I've done many times in the past and I'd like it to be based on good information. I'd like the news sources that I use for that information to have had access to primary sources themselves, so that I can judge for myself the level of threat posed and what seems to me to be an appropriate response.

At base, my motivation is wanting to be a better informed public citizen than my Chinese counterparts. I don't see how restricting access to information channels serves this goal. I don't feel safer today, or more free, because Javed Iqbal has been arrested.

Posted by natasha at August 27, 2006 02:50 PM | Censorship | Technorati links |

I think server companies are largely not responsible for the content they provide, although they are responsible for assisting the government in tracking down people who use the internet for criminal purposes.

The government has (and likely will continue to) harassed people who are part of unpopular minorities. That is probably what is happening here. Javed Iqbal may in the end escape conviction, but he is being inconvenienced for years, and that is probably what the government wants.

To protect yourself from that, you need a good lawyer, not a good media.

Posted by: Chris Vail at August 28, 2006 02:40 PM

I think if the media were willing to discuss these issues seriously and put them in the public eye more than some decades old tabloid murder, this sort of thing might not happen so much. But for the time being, yes, Mr. Iqbal needs a good lawyer. Because we still don't have an establishment media that's willing to take on a role of responsible citizenship.

Posted by: natasha at August 28, 2006 04:53 PM

I truly beleive this author [natasha] is truly aware and i respect her a lot.

She knows a lot and analyze well.

Posted by: Sami LIPKIN at September 9, 2006 02:32 PM