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Freedom to Broadcast Hate

Freedom to Broadcast Hate

As the Middle East continues to be torn apart by war, sectarian violence, and a bloody backlash against the Arab uprisings, BBC Arabic investigates the television channels that are fanning the flames of communal hatred.

Since the beginning of the Arab Spring in early 2011, the Middle East has experienced a proliferation of new television channels keen to spread political and religious messages to audiences eager to hear what they weren’t able to hear before.

This newfound freedom has allowed new media stars to shine: religious leaders and tele-evangelists. But it also has a darker side. Some of what is broadcast in the Middle East today is openly sectarian, highly provocative, and even blasphemous. Sunni television channels inveigh against Shi’a Muslims and Shi’a Islam, and their Shi’a counterparts do the same. The freedom to broadcast has become the freedom to hate.

In Freedom to Broadcasting Hate the BBC visits three countries where such broadcasting has proliferated, to uncover the reasons for it and assess its consequences.

In Egypt, anti-Shi’a sentiment erupted into violence last year when a Shi’a sheikh was beaten to death by an angry mob. We visit the village where the incident took place and meet broadcasters from a well-known television channel who defend themselves against the charge that they fan the flames of anti-Shi’a religious hatred.

In Iraq, where sectarian war rages, we hear that “the most dangerous message is the religious one – a religious message will turn into bombs”. We ask whether the country has become a safe haven for the purveyors of religious hatred. Iraq is home to one particular anti-Sunni station. A prominent Shi’a activist denies calling for the killing of Sunnis and says he’s just expressing his faith.

In Kuwait, where much of the funding is allegedly originates, we chase the money. We track down the backer behind an infamous Sunni channel.

And finally, we discover that some of the worst hate speech comes not from the Middle East but from London. We track down a Sunni and a Shia channel that are abusing the UK’s freedom of expression to transmit hate messages back to the Arab World.