The British communications regulator and watchdog organization, Ofcom, recently fined an Islamic TV £105,000 ($158,000) for airing a speech that condoned murder as a punishment for blasphemy.
In its explanation of the fine, Ofcom said the TV channel, DM Digital, had aired a speech by an Islamic scholar who made remarks "likely to encourage or incite the commission of crime or to lead to disorder."
DM Digital, however, is not the only Islamic TV station in the UK "likely to encourage or incite the commission of crime or lead to disorder."
When mentioning Islamic stations in the UK, Al-Hiwar TV, based in London, is usually the first to come to mind. Established in 2006 by Azzam Al-Tamimi, author of the book Hamas from Within, Al-Hiwar has been described by the website Crehi Plethi as the Muslim Brotherhood's "main medium."
Although the Muslim Brotherhood denies any connection to Al-Hiwar, according to journalist Elizabeth Blade, the Muslim Brotherhood does in fact run it.
Al-Hiwar's founder and manager, Azzam Al-Tamimi, has been described by the journalist Patrick Poole, as a "well-known international Muslim Brotherhood operative and Hamas insider."
Al-Hiwar TV founder Azzam Al-Tamimi (right) with Egpyt's deposed president, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi.
Al-Tamimi has expressed his willingness to become a suicide bomber "if he had the opportunity.". He is also a member of the Muslim Association of Britain [MAB], which had been described by British parliament member, Louise Ellman, as "a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood—an extremist fundamentalist organisation founded in Egypt in 1928, and the spiritual ideologue of all Islamic terror organizations."
A former Al-Hiwar staff member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity , confirmed that MAB operates an office inside Al-Hiwar TV, with Muhammad Sawalaha, who has been described as a "Hamas operative", serving as MAB's liaison officer.
The Muslim Brotherhood, despite having officially renounced violence, has been known for inciting often-violent political and social instability; it also openly claims responsibility for the installation of Hamas, a terrorist organization committed by its charter to the destruction of Israel.
Ofcom, in 2009, found Al-Hiwar in breach of British broadcasting regulations after the Tunisian Muslim Brotherhood leader, Rachid al-Ghannouchi, used the channel to praise Hamas's military operations and "the use of bombs." In explaining its decision, Ofcom said Al-Hiwar's fault was to be guilty of "not challenging" Al-Ghnnouchi's statement. Al-Ghannouchi nonetheless remained a regular guest on Al-Hiwar TV, delivering his messages to millions of viewers.
In an interview with Hamas's Al-Aqsa TV in Gaza, Al-Tamimi confirmed that his focus was "conveying the message" while keeping within the regulations to remain on the air: "There are those who lie in wait for the Arabic TV Channels …they seek loopholes in order to stop you from broadcasting, therefore my advice to my brothers in Al-Aqsa TV and other Arab channels is that as long as we are broadcasting on satellites we do not own, these satellites are owned by the West, we must refrain from violating these laws because this might be a platform to ban us from the air ....At the end of the day you want to convey a message…" Oh? And what message is that?
Al-Hiwar TV has also led a campaign against the United Arab Emirates [UAE] for their crackdown on Islamic fundamentalists and Muslim Brotherhood operatives on their soil. Al-Hiwar has continued its targeting of the UAE, by running a live show entitled, "Is the UAE Responsible for What is Happening in Egypt?", in which Al-Hiwar's anchor claimed, "If the UAE is involved [in Egypt's events] I will declare this publically: the UAE has a hand in exploding the situation in Egypt."
Such messages succeed in making the UAE a target for the wrath of Islamists and Muslim fundamentalists, and could easily lead to disorder on UAE soil.
The larger problem here is one of freedom of speech, and how it can easily be subverted to spread messages of hate and even death threats. Yasser Arafat used to say, "I don't have to tell you what to do. You know what to do." A Muslim who decided to flee the Middle East has been receiving anonymous phone calls saying, "We know where your children go to school and what time the school lets out." The words themselves are innocent, but there is no question about what is meant. So at the end of the day, if "you want to convey a message," the question then becomes: "How do you skirt the rules to convey it?"
Al-Hiwar, not "just" your friendly neighborhood TV station, is privately funded. Two of its former staff, who spoke to this author on the condition of anonymity, claimed Al-Hiwar's annual budget exceeded £3 Million ($4.82 million). Nonetheless, Al-Hiwar does not seem to publicly disclose where the funding comes from. The question then arises, in public communications, as with a public utility: if something is broadcasted to the public, should not the public have a right to know who is backing it?
For the sake of peaceful Muslim countries such as the UAE, and in the interests of maintaining airwaves free of hate and intimidation, Ofcom might do well to look at Al-Hiwar -- and the UK might look at its foreign influences laws -- a bit harder.