French court orders end to Al-Manar broadcasts

14th December 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Dec 14 (AFP) - A Lebanese television station accused of spreading anti-Semitic propaganda for the Muslim militant group Hezbollah will be taken off-air in Europe following a French ruling banning it, the Paris-based satellite company Eutelsat said.

PARIS, Dec 14 (AFP) - A Lebanese television station accused of spreading anti-Semitic propaganda for the Muslim militant group Hezbollah will be taken off-air in Europe  following a French ruling banning it, the Paris-based satellite company Eutelsat said.

The move, ordered by France's highest administrative court late Monday, was a "dangerous precedent" infringing on freedom of expression, the management of the station, Al-Manar, said, though French Jewish lobby groups rushed to praise the ruling.

Although the court gave Eutelsat 48 hours to comply, the company's chief executive, Giulio Berretta, said he hoped arrangements would be made to have Al-Manar's Eutelsat broadcasts blocked "before tonight (Tuesday)."

Speaking on French radio station Europe 1, he said: "This is a matter that will be resolved as far as Eutelsat is concerned."

Al-Manar is transmitted into Europe via Eutelsat's satellite as part of a package of nine Arab stations put out by Saudi-based Arabsat.

Berretta said Eutelsat had told Arabsat of the court's decision and that it was up to Arabsat to officially inform Al-Manar.

"We hope that the television station (Al-Manar) will be out of the Arabsat package before tonight. If Arabsat doesn't take it out, Eutelsat will take the decision to block the transponder emitting the nine Arab channels," he said.

Al-Manar will continue to be broadcast from six other satellites covering most of the world, including three in Europe that fall outside of France's jurisdiction.

France's broadcast regulator, the Higher Audiovisual Council (CSA), asked the court to ban Al-Manar from Eutelsat after a November 23 incident on the channel in which a speaker accused Israel of disseminating AIDS in the Arab world.

Al-Manar had been granted a CSA licence on November 19 despite protests from Jewish groups, but only on condition that it strictly adhere to French anti-racism laws.

The channel 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 told television station France 2 that "we must respect" the court's ban, adding: "Comments inciting hatred will not be tolerated." Jewish groups hailed the ban.

"This decision confirms the absolute necessity to fight anti-Semitism," the Hachomer Hatzair group representing Jewish youth said in a statement.

The International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA) said the ruling "will stop the pollution of European airwaves with anti-Semitic propaganda posing as anti-Zionism by the television station of the Hezbollah terrorist movement."

Al-Manar late Monday issued a statement claiming the ban was the result of Israeli pressure "following a political campaign by the Zionist lobby in France."

It said "the ban constitutes an attack on freedom of expression, a denial of the principles espoused by France and a dangerous precedent in France's attitude towards Arab media."

The head of Lebanon's broadcast regulator, Abdel Hadi Mahfouz, last Friday warned he would look at imposing reciprocal bans on French media transmitting into Lebanon if Al-Manar was taken off Eutelsat.

The Paris-based media rights lobby 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.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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