Unplugging Propaganda

In today’s media-saturated world, even extremists have PR campaigns.

Because winning hearts and minds requires reaching as many eyes and ears as possible, it’s little wonder that satellite operators sometimes find themselves inadvertently in the midst of the battle against militant extremists.

The latest incident involves Thaicom and Hezbollah

Satellite operator Thaicom has terminated broadcasts by a Lebanese television channel, al-Manar TV, after learning it was backed by the Shiite militant group Hezbollah. Shin Satellite, which owns Thaicom, pulled the plug on al-Manar TV on Monday.

The satellite had been broadcasting test transmissions for the station.

The abrupt cancellation followed a report by the Israel-based Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC) a few weeks ago that a Thai communications satellite, Thaicom, was transmitting al-Manar, to a vast audience.

Thaicom broadcasts to most countries in Asia as well as to Australia, Africa and central Europe.

US counter-terrorism specialist Andrew Cochran said ITIC reported that al-Manar raised funds for Hezbollah through advertisements broadcast on the network and an accompanying website that requested donations for the terrorist organisation.

Al-Manar has also provided support to Palestinian terrorist organisations, including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. It was known to have transferred tens of thousands of dollars for a PIJ-controlled charity, he said.

The report from the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center in Israel details the sequence of events that led Thaicom to being alerted to the issue and canceling the broadcast. The report can be read here. Wired also reports on the incident.

This isn’t the first time that Al-Manar has crept its way onto western satellites. Way back in August of 2006, we blogged about how one guy on Staten Island built an HDTV uplink in his back yard to distribute Al-Manar via satellite. And last year, Intelsat had its own embarrassing situation in Sri Lanka.

With the proliferation of satellite channels and capacity, we’re likely to see such incidents continue into the future.