Monday, December 13, 2004

France bans Hezbollah satellite TV as anti-Jewish 

By Reuters
Mon., December 13, 2004 Tevet 1, 5765

PARIS - A French court ordered a prompt end to satellite television broadcasts to Europe by Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrilla group on Monday on grounds they were clearly anti-Semitic and a potential threat to public order.

The Council of State, France's highest administrative court, gave the French-based company Eutelsat 48 hours to end the broadcasts beamed from its satellites after finding them in violation of a French legal ban on hate speech.

The court said Al-Manar could return to the airwaves if it modified its programs to satisfy French law.

France's broadcasting authority, the Higher Audiovisual Council (CSA), sought the ban after the station ignored its pledge to respect French law and accused Israel of crimes against humanity.

"Taken together, the programs are clearly militant, with anti-Semitic connotations," the court wrote in its decision after viewing several broadcasts from Al-Manar.

"It cannot be excluded that the broadcasts openly in violation of (French media law) could have harmful effects on public order," it added.

The conservative government and Jewish groups have pressed for about a year for a ban on Al-Manar, one of several Arabic-language stations popular among France's 5 million Muslims, who are mostly of North African origin.

Paris has expressed concern about growing Islamist influence among disaffected Muslim youths and anti-Semitic views spread by Hezbollah guerrillas opposed to Israel. The United States classes Hezbollah as a terrorist group, but France does not.

But the CSA had to license with strict fairness conditions and wait for them to be broken before it could ban the station.

This sparked vivid criticism, especially by leaders of France's 600,000 Jews who - like the Muslims - make up the largest minority of its kind in Europe.

It took less than two weeks for the CSA to find enough material to ask the Council of State for the ban.

The CSA cited as evidence an Al-Manar broadcast in November that spoke of "Zionist attempts to transmit dangerous diseases like AIDS through exports to Arab countries". The broadcast said Israel had "no scruples" about infecting Arabs and Muslims.

Al-Manar has said the French attempt to ban it from broadcasting went against the principle of freedom and that the channel had not broken a promise to report without bias.

Eutelsat, which risks a fine of 5,000 euros for every day it goes over the 48-hour deadline, said it could only unplug Al-Manar by taking eight other channels off its service at the same time.

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