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Reversing an Earlier Reversal, France Bans Hezbollah Tv Station

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Hezbollah’s TV channel faithfully pledged to avoid anti-Semitic content in its programs, but it will pay the price after it couldn’t keep its word for even a month. In a ruling Monday, the Conseil d’Etat, France’s highest administrative court, gave Eutelstat, Al-Manar’s satellite provider in Europe, 48 hours to cease broadcasts after the channel continued screening anti-Semitic material in contravention of an agreement it signed last month with France’s public broadcasting authority.

In addition, JTA has learned that the United States was to place Al-Manar on its terrorism exclusion list by the end of the week. That could curtail the station’s U.S. activities, including its broadcasts over a U.S.-based satellite network.

In France, the public broadcasting authority appealed to the court Nov. 30 to ban Al-Manar because of recent broadcasts that included allegations that Jews spread AIDS and other infectious diseases through Israeli exports to Arab countries.

The appeal followed intense pressure from Jewish groups in France and abroad who had been stunned by the authority’s decision to relicense Al-Manar last month, despite a series of broadcasts based on the czarist forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in November 2003.

The series, entitled “Al-Shatat” or “Diaspora,” purported to show a Jewish plot to control the world, and included scenes in which a rabbi orders Jews to kill a Christian child to use the blood in baking matzah.

In its ruling, the court said that programs diffused by Al-Manar “fall within a militant perspective which includes anti-Semitic connotations.”

“It cannot be excluded that the broadcasts are openly in violation” of French law, and “could have harmful effects on public order,” the ruling said.

Eutelstat would be fined around $6,500 dollars for each day it allowed the broadcasts to continue, the court said.

Shortly after the publication of the ban, Eutelstat’s director-general Giuliano Beretta said the company would comply immediately.

According to a lawyer for the group, it would take “between 10 and 12 hours” for the station to be withdrawn from the airwaves.

The decision was welcomed by Jewish groups, with the CRIF umbrella organization of French Jews expressing its “satisfaction” at the verdict.

“The Conseil d’Etat has taken into account the numerous warnings by CRIF regarding the racist and anti-Semitic character of Al-Manar, a channel which provides apologies for terrorism, denies human rights and which can cause breaches of public order,” CRIF said in a statement.

Al-Manar condemned the ban, adding that the decision came “at the declared incitation of Israel and following an organized political campaign by the Zionist lobby in France.”

“The maintenance of the ban constitutes an attack on the freedom of expression, a denial of principles always respected by France and a dangerous precedent in France’s attitude toward Arab media,” the station said in a statement issued Monday from Beirut.

CRIF had mounted a vigorous campaign in recent weeks against the decision to relicense Al-Manar, taking a bus around the center of Paris to spread its message and organizing a petition. The petition garnered close to 30,000 signatures, including those of the leaders of France’s three largest political parties.

Still, some groups remained critical over how the government had handled the crisis.

A spokesman for the Consistoire Central, France’s main Jewish religious organization, said Monday that the decision “doesn’t stop us asking the question how the broadcasting authority took its decision in the first place” to license the channel.

Similar reaction came from the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism.

The bureau’s president, Sammy Ghozlan, told JTA that “we shouldn’t have even got to this point.”

“What we need are preventive measures to make sure this evil doesn’t come anywhere near our television screens,” he added.

However, while clearly embarrassed by the initial decision last month to allow Al-Manar to continue broadcasting, French government officials were relieved at the definitive ban.

Speaking Monday on the Canal Plus national cable channel, Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres said he was “very proud that France regards racist statements as having no place within its territory.”

The court’s decision was “expected and necessary,” he added.

The decision to ban Al-Manar in France effectively prevents the channel from broadcasting across the 25-member European Union. Until now, Eutelstat had presented al-Manar as part of a package of nine channels put out by Arabsat, a satellite group based in Saudi Arabia.

But while legislation in most E.U. states allows for the banning of racist material, Al-Manar remains available in dozens of countries around the world through a network of international satellite providers.

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