Germany Does Not Ban Hezbollah TV

"Germany Bans Hezbollah Television Al-Manar"

Thus ran the headline to a sketchy 200-word AP dispatch that appeared on Friday and that was quickly picked up by other media, both old and new. The alleged news was in fact broken one day earlier by the Jerusalem Post in a more detailed report with the similarly categorical title "Germany Bans Hizbullah Television." The problem, however, is that if one checks the fine print and if the word "ban" means ban, in the usual sense of the term, then the report is clearly false.

The Jerusalem Post story had the trappings of a real scoop, inasmuch as not only no other English-language media, but, curiously, no German media had previously made mention of any such "ban" of Al-Manar. The origin of the report seems to have been a passing remark by Israeli Public Security Minister Avi Dichter. Visiting Berlin last week to meet with his German counterpart, Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, and queried by the Jerusalem Post as to whether Germany's notably lax policy toward Hezbollah would be on the agenda, Dichter commented, "I heard they banned Al-Manar." Contacted by the Jerusalem Post, the German Interior Ministry appeared to confirm the news, saying that Interior Minister Schäuble had indeed "banned" the Beirut-based channel by administrative order on November 11. As reported by the paper, the Ministry spokesperson explained that the ban would "cover Al-Manar advertisements, fundraising for its Beirut studio, and the station's reception in hotels." It would not, however, affect the reception of Al-Manar in private homes. "Germany Bans Al-Manar in Hotels" might thus have been a more accurate title.

But even this is not sure. Since Al-Manar is only available in Germany via the, respectively, Egyptian and Saudi satellite networks Nilesat and Arabsat and since these can be presumed not to be the satellite providers of choice for German hotels in any case, the supposed "ban" appears to amount, in effect, to a purely notional ban of nothing at all that was actually occurring. As the German daily Die Welt bizarrely wrote in a short article that, nonetheless, repeated the claim that an order "banning" the channel had in fact been issued: "No interruption of [Al-Manar] broadcasting is to be expected as a result." The headline on a German website devoted to digital television perhaps best summed up the surreal character of this prohibition that does not prohibit: "Schäuble Bans Al-Manar TV -- But Ban Has No Consequences."