Iran bans The Economist & Turkey bans Winnie the Pooh

June 21, 2006

* & Egypt bans the Da Vinci Code because it is “Zionist”

* The media battle in the Middle East heats up as Germany’s public broadcaster, Deutsche Welle, prepares to launch a 24-hour Arabic news channel, following decisions by France, Russia, and Britain to do the same
* CNN’s Arabic Web site now attracts more than 300,000 unique visitors monthly (and the BBC’s Arabic site 1.5 million unique visitors, and 12 million listeners)

 

CONTENTS

1. Iran bans The Economist
2. First they came for Piglet…
3. Egypt bans the “Zionist” Da Vinci Code film & book
4. Syria: Israel behind both world wars
5. “Information is becoming more important than diplomacy”
6. “Iran bans The Economist over map” (Associated Press, June 14, 2006)
7. “Piglet keeps Pooh off air” (Reuters, June 17, 2006)
8. “Egypt: Da Vinci Code based on Zionist myths” (Reuters, June 13, 2006)
9. “Big fish dive into Arab news stream” (International Herald Tribune, June 18, 2006)



[Note by Tom Gross]

IRAN BANS THE ECONOMIST

Iran has banned the influential news and business magazine, The Economist, for describing the Persian Gulf as merely “the Gulf.” According to the Associated Press, Teheran believes in aggressively defending the historical term “Persian Gulf” against “Arabian Gulf,” which it regards as a name invented by Arab nationalists.

Both Al-Jazeera and the National Geographic were banned in Iran in 2004 for the same reason. For more, see Zionists “secretly control” both Al-Jazeera and the National Geographic (Dec. 15, 2004).

Incidentally, those of you who still believe (wrongly) that The Economist is a byword for balanced journalism, may be disappointed to learn that The Economist’s sole obituary this week is not of a figure who achieved something of world value in his lifetime, but is a highly politicized, sympathetic obituary of Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, one of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay who committed suicide on June 10th. (Several Economist writers and editors are subscribers to this list.)

FIRST THEY CAME FOR PIGLET…

Turkey’s public television TRT, which is controlled by Ankara’s Islamist government, has banned the screening of Walt Disney’s classic cartoon Winnie the Pooh because piglet is one of its central characters.

TRT had considered cutting the scenes showing Piglet, who is one of Winnie the Pooh’s best friends, but abandoned the idea because the small pink-skinned character appeared too often, according to the left-wing Turkish daily Cumhuriyet and the mass-circulation Sabah newspaper.

Employees of TRT have recently complained of increasing government pressure in TRT programming policy.

Muslims consider pigs to be unclean and Islam prohibits the consumption of pork, but Turkey was (at least until recently) a modern, secular country.

In the dispatch of Oct. 7, 2005, titled Hamas: “No dancing and no gays”; & on banning Winnie the Pooh..., I included an article by Mark Steyn who commented on the outlawing of “pig-related items” in the United Kingdom.

Steyn wrote sarcastically (in a parody of the famous 1930s warning): “As Pastor Niemoller said, first they came for Piglet and I did not speak out because I was not a Disney character...”

EGYPT BANS THE “ZIONIST” DA VINCI CODE FILM & BOOK

The Egyptian authorities have announced that they will confiscate copies of the best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code and ban the film based on the book, from Egyptian movie theaters.

Georgette Sobhi, a Coptic member of the Egyptian parliament claimed that Dan Brown’s mega-best seller is “based on Zionist myths.” (For the record, Dan Brown is not Jewish, and it would be a stretch, to say the least, to claim that the plot of his novel has anything to do with Zionism.)

Members of the Egyptian parliament burst into applause as minister Farouk Hosni announced the ban, according to Reuters. Some Egyptian pro-democracy activists have expressed alarm at the government’s decision, calling it “a continuation of an assault on freedom of expression.”

As of Monday, The Da Vinci Code had grossed $678 million worldwide, since its release one month ago.

Reuters reports that the Egyptian distributors of the film had postponed a decision on screening it in Egypt in anticipation of the ban. For more on this, see “Da Vinci Code” movie banned by Egypt, Lebanon, Syria & Jordan (May 16, 2006).

SYRIA: ISRAEL BEHIND BOTH WORLD WARS

Syrian diplomat Ahmed Alhariri told the UN Security Council meeting on the Tuesday before last that Israel was behind both the first and second world wars. (Of course, Israel didn’t even exist at the time, but the truth has never stopped Israel-haters.)

“If we examine the matter, we will find that Israel was behind the eruption of both world wars,” Alhariri told the UN Security Council’s anti-terror committee. He then went on to say that Israel was doing its utmost to launch a third world war.

“INFORMATION IS BECOMING MORE IMPORTANT THAN DIPLOMACY”

The battle to influence viewers in the Arab world is heating up.

Deutsche Welle, Germany’s public international broadcaster, is preparing to launch a 24-hour news channel in Arabic this fall, and France’s yet-to-be-named CNN-style channel is due to go on air next year.

The state-owned Russia Today also plans for an Arabic-language website and television station. In addition the BBC World Service, with a budget of $35 million, is due to launch its Arabic news broadcasts this fall.

Last March the state-owned Spanish news agency EFE started an Arabic service whilst in Denmark the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party is proposing to set up an Arab version of Radio Free Europe.

As Ahmed al Sheikh, the editor in chief of Al-Jazeera, notes in the final article attached below, “Information is becoming more important than diplomacy. Diplomats sometimes screw things up, but if you play it right via television, then you can achieve so much more.”

I attach four articles, with summaries first for those that don’t have time to read them in full.

-- Tom Gross

 

SUMMARIES

A GULF OF MISUNDERSTANDING

[This is the full article]

“Iran bans The Economist over map” (The Associated Press, June 14, 2006)

Iran has banned The Economist magazine for describing the Persian Gulf as merely “the Gulf” in a map published in the latest edition, state television reported late Wednesday.

It is the second time in two years that Iran has prohibited a publication of international repute for failing to use the term “Persian Gulf” in its maps. In November 2004, it banned the National Geographic atlas when a new edition appeared with the term “Arabian Gulf” in parenthesis beside the more commonly used Persian Gulf.

Tehran believes in aggressively defending the historical term “Persian Gulf” against “Arabian Gulf,” which it regards as a name dreamed up by Arab nationalists. While Iran dominates the eastern side of the waterway, the western shores are held by Arab countries.

 

PIGLET KEEPS POOH OFF AIR

“Piglet keeps Pooh off air” (Reuters, June 17, 2006)

Turkey’s public television TRT, controlled by the Islamist-rooted government, has barred the popular Walt Disney cartoon Winnie the Pooh from air because it has a piglet as one of its main heroes, the Turkish press reported today. Several other cartoons featuring pigs also failed to win the green light from TRT management, according to the left-wing Cumhuriyet daily.

The station initially considered scissoring the scenes showing Piglet, but abandoned the idea because the small pink-skinned character, one of Winnie the Pooh’s closest friends, appeared too often, Cumhuriyet and the mass-circulation Sabah newspaper said… Winnie the Pooh videos remain easily available at the stores…

 

“THIS VIOLATES FREEDOM OF THOUGHT AND BELIEF”

“Egypt: Da Vinci Code based on Zionist myths” (Reuters, June 13, 2006)

Egyptian authorities will confiscate copies of the best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code and ban the film based on the book from showing in Egypt, the culture minister told parliament.

To applause from members of parliament, minister Farouk Hosni said: “We ban any book that insults any religion... we will confiscate this book.” Parliament was debating the book and film at the request of several Coptic Christian members who demanded a ban.

Georgette Sobhi, a Coptic member, held up a copy of the book and the Arabic translation and said it contained material which was seriously offensive. “It’s based on Zionist myths, and it contains insults towards Christ, and it insults the Christian religion and Islam,” she said…

Hafez Abu Saeda, the secretary-general of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, told Reuters: “This violates freedom of thought and belief... This is fiction. It’s art and it should be regarded as art.”…

He said the book had sold well in various Christian-majority countries and had not faced calls for a ban. The members of parliament should be aware that the measure would not work, given that thousands of Egyptians already own copies and that the book can be downloaded from the Internet, he added.

Shahira Fathy, the manager of Cairo’s popular Diwan bookstore, said the book had been one of their top sellers since it came out in 2003…

 

WILL MORE WESTERN NEWS ORGANIZATIONS CREATE A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF THE MIDDLE EAST?

“Big fish dive into Arab news stream” (International Herald Tribune, June 18, 2006)

The media battle for hearts and market share in the Middle East is evolving into a teeming crowd of Western news organizations poised to deliver headlines – and geopolitical views – in the language of the Koran.

Backed by government financing, Germany’s public international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle, is preparing to beam as much as 24 hours daily of news programming in Arabic this autumn. France’s yet-to-be-named CNN-style channel is in development for a year-end opening, along with a Web site in Arabic and later in 2007 an Arabic television version.

The state-owned Russia Today has similar plans for a Web site and Arabic television along with a $40 million budget, while the U.S.-based news giant CNN is holding back for now, preferring to watch the development of its Arabic Web site, which currently attracts more than 300,000 unique visitors monthly…

The BBC World Service itself is also in the fray, with £19 million, or $35 million, from the British government for an autumn debut of an Arabic news broadcast, starting with 12 hours of daily programming and expanding to 24 hours.

The headlong rush of these national news organizations reflects a practical approach to the Middle East: Conflicts can be influenced by story-telling and a relentless flow of information as well as by missiles and pin-striped diplomats…

For countries like Denmark and Spain, where Arabic news efforts are beginning, the benefits may well outweigh the hazards. Both nations have confronted geopolitical tensions, with the terrorist bombings in Madrid in March 2004 and the furor over the publication last year of cartoon caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper.

In late March, the state-owned Spanish news agency EFE started an Arabic service with financing from the Foreign Affairs Ministry. The service offers information to newspaper and media outlets and an Arabic Web site that eventually will be available in part for free to general readers…

For the newcomers, the keys to success are credibility and performance, many Arab media experts say. Already, more than 200 free television channels cover the Arab region on the satellites Arabsat and Nilesat, with 10 percent devoted to news, according to Judeh Siwady, a media analyst with Arab Advisors Group, based in Amman.

That includes the American-backed station Al Hurra, which, according to the Arab Advisors surveys, lags far behind the news leaders, the Qatar-based Al Jazeera and the Saudi Arabian station Al Arabiya. In a poll last month of more than 10,000 adults in 10 countries by the BBC and Reuters, 59 percent of Egyptians ranked Al Jazeera as their most trusted news source…

In some ways, the BBC seems best poised to expand into Arabic broadcasting because of its long history, which dates from the start of its Arabic shortwave radio service in 1938.

The organization can leverage its established Middle Eastern presence with more than 12 million radio listeners and 1.5 million unique visitors monthly on the BBC Arabic Web site.

Ahmed al Sheikh, the editor in chief of Al Jazeera, gave a backhanded compliment to his new competitor. “People are quite familiar with the BBC, and they trust it,” he said. “I’m not sure whether the new generation trusts the same as the old one. I still remember my father tuning in when I was young, and he used to say, ‘I heard it on Radio London.’ Whether they can capitalize on that, I’m not sure.”…



FULL ARTICLES

TURKEY BANS WINNIE THE POOH

Piglet keeps Pooh off air
Reuters
June 17, 2006

www.news.com.au/story/0,10117,19503274-1702,00.html?from=rss

Turkey’s public television TRT, controlled by the Islamist-rooted government, has barred the popular Walt Disney cartoon Winnie the Pooh from air because it has a piglet as one of its main heroes, the Turkish press reported today.

Several other cartoons featuring pigs also failed to win the green light from TRT management, according to the left-wing Cumhuriyet daily.

The station initially considered scissoring the scenes showing Piglet, but abandoned the idea because the small pink-skinned character, one of Winnie the Pooh’s closest friends, appeared too often, Cumhuriyet and the mass-circulation Sabah newspaper said.

TRT officials were not immediately available for comment.

Pigs are regarded as unclean by Muslims and Islam prohibits the consumption of pork.

Winnie the Pooh has been aired on other television channels in Turkey and its videos are easily available at the stores.

Employees have recently complained of increasing government intervention in TRT’s broadcasting policy, including also the appointment of ruling party cronies to key posts at the institution, which runs several television and radio channels.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, the offshoot of a now-banned Islamist movement, is under fire for seeking to raise the profile of Islam in mainly Muslim but strictly secular Turkey.

 

DA VINCI CODE “BASED ON ZIONIST MYTHS”

Egypt: Da Vinci Code based on Zionist myths
Authorities to confiscate copies of best-selling novel, ban film based on book from showing in Egypt
Reuters
June 13, 2006

www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3262603,00.html

Egyptian authorities will confiscate copies of the best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code and ban the film based on the book from showing in Egypt, the culture minister told parliament on Tuesday.

To applause from members of parliament, minister Farouk Hosni said: “We ban any book that insults any religion... we will confiscate this book.”

Parliament was debating the book and film at the request of several Coptic Christian members who demanded a ban.

Georgette Sobhi, a Coptic member, held up a copy of the book and the Arabic translation and said it contained material which was seriously offensive.

“It’s based on Zionist myths, and it contains insults towards Christ, and it insults the Christian religion and Islam,” she said.

A central part of the fictional plot is that Christ married Mary Magdalene and that their descendants are alive today.

Hussein Ibrahim, the deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc, said that as the Brotherhood had opposed the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, so they would oppose any insult to Jesus Christ.

News of the government’s decision caused concern in other quarters, with one human rights activist calling it a very dangerous decision and a continuation of an assault on freedom of expression.

‘Decision violates freedom of thought’

Hafez Abu Saeda, the secretary-general of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, told Reuters: “This violates freedom of thought and belief... This is fiction. It’s art and it should be regarded as art.”

He said the book had sold well in various Christian-majority countries and had not faced calls for a ban. The members of parliament should be aware that the measure would not work, given that thousands of Egyptians already own copies and that the book can be downloaded from the Internet, he added.

Shahira Fathy, the manager of Cairo’s popular Diwan bookstore, said the book had been one of their top sellers since it came out in 2003.

“It’s a shame. A lot of people are interested in this topic,” She said, adding that other books written on the subject had also been selling.

The Egyptian distributors of the film had postponed a decision on screening it in Egypt in anticipation of a ban.

 

“CONFLICTS CAN BE INFLUENCED BY STORY-TELLING”

Big fish dive into Arab news stream
By Doreen Carvajal
International Herald Tribune
June 18, 2006

www.iht.com/articles/2006/06/18/business/arabtv.php

The media battle for hearts and market share in the Middle East is evolving into a teeming crowd of Western news organizations poised to deliver headlines – and geopolitical views – in the language of the Koran.

Backed by government financing, Germany’s public international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle, is preparing to beam as much as 24 hours daily of news programming in Arabic this autumn. France’s yet-to-be-named CNN-style channel is in development for a year-end opening, along with a Web site in Arabic and later in 2007 an Arabic television version.

The state-owned Russia Today has similar plans for a Web site and Arabic television along with a $40 million budget, while the U.S.-based news giant CNN is holding back for now, preferring to watch the development of its Arabic Web site, which currently attracts more than 300,000 unique visitors monthly.

“I’m losing track,” said Jerry Timmins, head of the BBC World Service’s operations in Africa and the Middle East. “There’s pretty much of an announcement a week, and it seems to be part of the fashion industry.”

The BBC World Service itself is also in the fray, with £19 million, or $35 million, from the British government for an autumn debut of an Arabic news broadcast, starting with 12 hours of daily programming and expanding to 24 hours.

The headlong rush of these national news organizations reflects a practical approach to the Middle East: Conflicts can be influenced by story-telling and a relentless flow of information as well as by missiles and pin-striped diplomats.

But the debate is beginning about whether these foreign broadcasts will create understanding or more bitter conflict. “Lost in Translation” was the name of a panel at the Arab Broadcast Forum this month in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, that raised questions about how foreign broadcasters would address sensitive issues like suicide bombings.

The potential risks were apparent last week when about 500 Iraqi followers of a radical Shiite cleric attacked the Iranian consulate in Basra, Iraq, in anger over talk show commentary on Al Kawthar, an Iranian satellite television channel that broadcasts in Arabic.

For countries like Denmark and Spain, where Arabic news efforts are beginning, the benefits may well outweigh the hazards. Both nations have confronted geopolitical tensions, with the terrorist bombings in Madrid in March 2004 and the furor over the publication last year of cartoon caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper.

In late March, the state-owned Spanish news agency EFE started an Arabic service with financing from the Foreign Affairs Ministry. The service offers information to newspaper and media outlets and an Arabic Web site that eventually will be available in part for free to general readers.

“We want to be a piece of the big puzzle and try to offer a bridge between civilizations,” said Javier Martin, head of EFE’s Arabic services. “It’s one of our aims. The other one is a commercial aim, and we’re trying to sign up subscribers.”

With a newly hired staff of 14 Arabic editors and translators in Cairo, the news agency is concentrating on reaching African media outlets in some of the countries closest to Spain: Tunisia, Mauritania and Morocco, the latter being the home country of several terrorists involved in the Madrid bombings.

In Denmark, the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party is proposing to set up what it calls an Arab version of Radio Free Europe through the national public broadcaster, Danmarks Radio. They aim to set aside 25 million kroner, or $4.2 million, to transmit radio and television programming to Arabic-speaking countries, tapping a 100 million kroner fund set up in 2003 by an initiative called the “Danish as an Arab.”

“It has not been approved yet, but eventually it looks like it’s possible,” said Soren Espersen, the Danish People’s Party’s foreign policy spokesman. “We feel that there is a lack of democracy in Arab countries, and that was the reason for the crisis with the cartoons. It’s important that they get discussions about democracy.”

For the newcomers, the keys to success are credibility and performance, many Arab media experts say. Already, more than 200 free television channels cover the Arab region on the satellites Arabsat and Nilesat, with 10 percent devoted to news, according to Judeh Siwady, a media analyst with Arab Advisors Group, based in Amman.

That includes the American-backed station Al Hurra, which, according to the Arab Advisors surveys, lags far behind the news leaders, the Qatar-based Al Jazeera and the Saudi Arabian station Al Arabiya. In a poll last month of more than 10,000 adults in 10 countries by the BBC and Reuters, 59 percent of Egyptians ranked Al Jazeera as their most trusted news source.

“People will have a look” at the new foreign channels, said Nasib Bitar, a Dubai-based producer and media consultant who is advising Jordanian broadcasters and producers on setting up operations. “It all depends on content and how they run it. I believe if any broadcaster showed compassion through its programming, people would watch. The problem at this stage is that Arabic broadcasting is growing in numbers, but not in quality.”

Said Timmins of the BBC, “I think very few will have an impact, really.”

While others are stampeding in, CNN is hanging back for a better commercial opportunity, lacking access to government financing available to the BBC.

“It remains a possibility in the future,” said a spokesman for CNN, Nigel Pritchard, noting that “as a commercial broadcaster, anything we do needs to make both editorial and business sense.”

In some ways, the BBC seems best poised to expand into Arabic broadcasting because of its long history, which dates from the start of its Arabic shortwave radio service in 1938.

The organization can leverage its established Middle Eastern presence with more than 12 million radio listeners and 1.5 million unique visitors monthly on the BBC Arabic Web site.

Ahmed al Sheikh, the editor in chief of Al Jazeera, gave a backhanded compliment to his new competitor. “People are quite familiar with the BBC, and they trust it,” he said. “I’m not sure whether the new generation trusts the same as the old one. I still remember my father tuning in when I was young, and he used to say, ‘I heard it on Radio London.’ Whether they can capitalize on that, I’m not sure.”

Deutsche Welle, which last year rolled out its Arabic-language service with Arabic anchors, intends to expand the same general format with a mixture of news, features and documentaries exploring issues from health care to politics, according to Klaus-Dieter Seelig, head of its department of foreign language services.

New technology is central to the British and French strategies, with television programming designed to be interactive with Arabic Web sites.

The aim of the €80 million, or $101 million, French project is to draw users to its Arabic Web site this autumn, leading them to the new television channel when it starts.

“The Internet is the heart of our whole machine,” said Ulysse Gosset, who is leading the development of the French project, which is likely to announce its name this week. “We want to make sure that people will be able to address the channel, to participate in forums, to follow the blogs and video logs of our correspondents. We are really a multimedia channel.”

All the discussion about new technology does not seem to faze Al Jazeera, which is preparing to spin off an international English version, the start of which has been delayed three times because of “technical reasons” involving the linkup of its four international news centers.

Sheikh, the broadcaster’s editor in chief, said the new competition was positive. “It’s a natural development that all these new news organizations are springing up,” he said. “I think it’s because of Al Jazeera’s existence in the first place.”

The stakes, he noted, are high: “Information is becoming more important than diplomacy. Diplomats sometimes screw things up, but if you play it right via television, then you can achieve so much more.”


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.