Tuesday, December 14, 2004

French ban Hizbollah TV station Al-Manar; Arabs threaten France in return

PARIS -- France's highest administrative body on Monday ordered the TV station of Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group off French airwaves within 48 hours for broadcasting hateful content in some shows and posing risks to public order.

The decision came after a Nov. 23 Al-Manar program quoted someone described as an expert on Zionist affairs warning of 'Zionist attempts' to transmit dangerous diseases like AIDS to Arab countries. Another program the same day glorified attacks against Israel, the administrative body said.

The Council of State ordered Paris-based satellite operator Eutelsat to stop broadcasting Al-Manar within two days or pay a fine of $6,600 a day.

The station broadcast some programs that were 'openly contrary' to a French law banning incitement to hate, a situation that poses 'risks to maintaining public order,' the council said in its 11-page ruling.

However, the council left open the possibility that Al-Manar could keep operating if the company that airs the station, the Lebanese Communication Group, shows itself ready to modify its programs to conform with French law.

In Beirut, Al-Manar TV condemned the French ban as 'a dangerous precedent' against the Arab media and blamed Israeli pressure for it.

The decision risks a tit-for-tat move against France. Last Friday, Lebanese media officials warned that any decision to suspend or cancel Al-Manar could force Lebanese officials to take action against French stations.

On Thursday, Lebanese Information Minister Elie Ferzli said his country 'would not remain silent' if French measures are taken against Al-Manar, which is operated by the Shiite militant group Hezbollah.