France uges EU debate following Al-Manar TV ban

15th December 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Dec 15 (AFP) - France has called for an EU-wide debate after a Lebanese television station accused of spreading anti-Semitic propaganda for the Muslim militant group Hezbollah was pulled from a French satellite television network Tuesday following a French ruling banning it.

PARIS, Dec 15 (AFP) - France has called for an EU-wide debate after a Lebanese television station accused of spreading anti-Semitic propaganda for the Muslim militant group Hezbollah was pulled from a French satellite television network Tuesday following a French ruling banning it.

The channel, Al-Manar, voluntarily stopped beaming via Paris-based satellite company Eutelsat's satellite after being notified of the order issued Monday by France's highest administrative court, but complained that its right to freedom of expression was being infringed.

Jewish lobby groups welcomed the French ruling, even though the channel continues to be broadcast to parts of Europe and to other regions around the world on six other satellites outside of French jurisdiction.

Lebanese Prime Minister Omar Karameh threatened to punish French media in response to the ban on Al-Manar.

"If the (French) decision is enforced, we will apply the principle of reciprocity," toward French media which are beamed to Lebanon, he told a news conference in Doha.

"Certain French officials have admitted Israeli pressure was exerted on them ... Al-Manar did not make a mistake," he added.

Syrian Information Minister Mahdi Dakhlallah denounced the French decision as "media terrorism".

French Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu sought to widen the debate, calling for Europe-wide discussion on the issue.

"I have approached the European Commission, Viviane Reding (the EU commissioner) in charge of communications and the EU presidency so that this question is the subject of a European discussion," Donnedieu said on French television.

Reding welcomed the move to broaden the debate, stressing that EU rules "clearly ban transmissions inciting hatred on the grounds of race, sex, religion or nationality".

The media rights group Reporters Without Borders said that while Al-Manar "has broadcast unacceptable anti-Semitic comment," shutting down access to it was not the right path to take.

"Ordering the pure and simple closure of a media outlet is never the best solution," it said.

Al-Manar joined some 1,500 other channels being transmitted into Europe on Eutelsat's Hot Bird 4 satellite on November 19 after being granted a licence by France's broadcast regulator, the Higher Audiovisual Council (CSA).

But the CSA applied to have the licence revoked a week later, after Al-Manar made a number of comments considered anti-Semitic, including one on November 23 in which a speaker accused Israel of disseminating AIDS in the Arab world.

Al-Manar is seen as a mouthpiece of the Lebanese Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah. The group is both a political party in Lebanon and a militia group which from to time launches cross-border attacks against Israel. It is viewed by the United States and some European countries as a terrorist organisation.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier expressed support for the court ruling against the station, telling the France 2 network Tuesday that "comments inciting hatred will not be tolerated."

Eutelsat's chief executive, Giulio Berretta, said his company had contacted Arabsat, the Saudi-based operator that had put Al-Manar on the Hot Bird 4 satellite in a package with eight other Arab stations, to inform it of the ban.

Arabsat responded by saying Al-Manar - after initially calling the French decision a "dangerous precedent" against media freedom that called into question Paris's relations with the Arab world - had volunteered to stop its broadcasts via Eutelsat to prevent the other stations from also being blocked.

In Beirut, Al-Manar's news director, Hassan Fadlallah, told AFP that the decision was made "to save problems for the other Arab channels on the same package."

He added that "we sent a message to Arabsat informing them of our decision to voluntarily halt broadcasts on the Hotbird 4 satellite of Eutelsat so as not to complicate things further" but vowed that Al-Manar would "pursue the case through legal channels".

Al-Manar's public relations director, Ibrahim Farhat, said the station hoped to convince French authorities to overturn the ban by promising to modify programmes to comply with French laws.

He said station executives would be holding a meeting with CSA representatives in Paris on Friday to discuss the matter.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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