Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Palestinian TV and Regulatory Capture

There’s an article about the chaos of Palestinian TV on Wired News, “Live From the West Bank,” which starts:

Helga Tawil Souri reclines on the couch at a friend’s house in the Palestinian West Bank, getting sucked into an Egyptian movie about a woman in an insane asylum. Right before the climactic face-off, though, the screen goes black, and a different movie pops on. A visitor to the area, Souri is startled and a bit peeved. Her host, a dentist named Abu Mohammed, grins knowingly. He picks up his cell phone and dials the manager of the local television station. After gossiping and speculating about the weather for a few minutes, Mohammed gets to the point: “Look, if it’s not too much trouble, can you put the movie back on?” Five minutes later, televisions across the area flicker, the image on the screen shifts, and the original film’s conclusion airs.

The article discusses how a lack of regulation creates a confused, amateurish, open space for people to experiment with TV, and then concludes:

Fellow journalist Walid Batrawi shares Kuttab’s goals and has helped draft reforms for the Palestinian Authority calling for minimum levels of investment, education, and staffing for each station. The restrictions were supposed to go into effect in 2000 and would have put many small operations out of business.

Indeed, putting small, nimble, responsive organizations out of business is often either an explicit goal or unavoidable side effect of regulation. I’ve been watching the acquisitions of both Sourcefire and NCipher fall victim to regulatory inquiries which move too slowly for the acquirer to wait around. As a startup guy, this worries the heck out of me. You can never have too many opportunities for exit (right, Siteadvisor?). Sarbanes-Oxley has already cut back on the ability of startups to go public, raising that bar. National and international regulators are now exercising another bar. Every opportunity for exit is a chance to value the business, reassess the market, and weigh anticipated growth versus a chance to make value gains liquid. But I digress.

I’m not a big believer in using violence, or the threat of violence, to control a market. I think people should be allowed free speech, even in the case of the Palestinian Authority, which has long funneled US and EU aid into the creation and broadcast of anti-Semetic propaganda on official TV stations. Let a thousand flowers bloom, even if some of them are ugly.

Just don’t use regulation to prevent them from growing.