Thu, Dec 16, 2004 - Page 6 News List

France orders Islamist TV station off the air

LICENCE REVOKED Lebanese channel al-Manar, a mouthpiece of the Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah, was banned after broadcasting a number of anti-Semitic comments

AFP , PARIS

A Lebanese television station accused of spreading anti-Semitic propaganda for the Muslim militant group Hezbollah was taken off-air in Europe on Tuesday following a French ruling banning it, the Paris-based satellite company Eutelsat said.

The channel, al-Manar, voluntarily stopped beaming via Eutelsat's satellite after being notified of the order issued on Monday by France's highest administrative court, but complained 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.

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 Nov. 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 Nov. 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 US and some European countries as a terrorist organization.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier expressed support for the court ruling against the station, telling the France 2 network on 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' relations with the Arab world -- had volunteered to stop its broadcasts via Eutelsat to prevent the other stations from also being blocked.

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

Lebanese Prime Minister Omar Karame said during a visit to Qatar that his country was considering a reciprocal ban on French media broadcasts.

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