Say what you will about Al-Manar, but you cannot accuse the Beirut-based TV channel of having a hidden agenda. FOX News achieved infamy by claiming to be "Fair and Balanced," and even other news organizations with an undeniable political bias insist that their reporting is impartial.
Al-Manar, by contrast, makes no bones about the fact that it serves to promote the interests of its patron: Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed, rabidly anti-Israel militia which has established a de facto fiefdom in much of Lebanon. In the documentary In the Name of Hezbollah: Al-Manar TV, one station employee is asked whether Hezbollah's guns or its TV programs are more effective at fighting the hated Israelis. "The clips help the gun," he responds.
In the Name of Hezbollah, originally made for French television (and presented on DVD with English subtitles) was made with surprising cooperation from Al-Manar and its employees, and it's deeply unnerving to see the channel's modern equipment and skilled, professional-looking staff making loaded, often blatantly anti-Semitic propaganda. (People familiar with the invaluable MEMRI website will know what I'm talking about.) One show, My Blood and the Gun, features hagiographic biographies of "martyrs" who died fighting Israel. Footage of Palestinian victims of the conflict is shown repeatedly – the sad case of Mohammed Al-Dura, allegedly killed by the IDF while taking cover behind his father, is an Al-Manar fixture.
Israeli victims are also occasionally shown, but only with Hebrew subtitles informing the "Zionists" that they cannot defeat Hezbollah and the Palestinians. Still, the Palestinians and Lebanese make up the bulk of Al-Manar's audience, and while some viewers dismiss the channel as one-sided propaganda (one Palestinian says the Israeli TV networks have better news coverage), it has found a very devoted audience.
In the Name of Hezbollah is not a perfect documentary – in particular, the film grinds to a halt when a French academic is dragged in to point out things the viewer will already have noticed – but it is an eye-opening look at how Islamic extremists are spreading their message. Outside of the Middle East, Al-Manar has created controversy wherever satellite TV providers have made it available, but a part of me wonders whether people in the West should be encouraged to watch the station, so we can see what Hezbollah and its allies really stand for.