Dominique Baudis

Up to now, the freedom of speech was the same for all medias (press, audio-visual, internet): to publish or broadcast something was a right; insult and defamation could be settle in courts. However, for Hertzian television and radio stations an exceptional rule has been established due to the fact that the number of available frequencies was limited and a para-administrative authority was the one in charge of allotting the said frequencies, that is, of authorizing the broadcasting.

The Higher Media Council (CSA) had been gradually using its power to allot frequencies to influence the content of programs. Through the “requirement” game, the Council was already censoring things.
But this structure collapsed a moth ago. The freedom of speech as the base of democracy has been restrained and a new premature regime of censorship has been imposed in the audio-visual field. The parliamentarian majority, which is proud of having made the access to the internet a general right, has discreetly created two different legal regimes in accordance with the form of expression: one for commercial activities and the other for political ones.
Thus, it has pleased the lobby of the cultural industry that has succeeded in imposing repressive means to still get the tithe upon all products, especially those presented through the internet. Simultaneously, it has gotten an extraordinary power upon radio and television.

It all began a year and a half ago. When Francis Mer was the Minister of Economy and Finance, he introduced two bills to the General Assembly. In January 2003, he introduced the trust in numerical economy bill and some time later that year, in July, the one about electronic communications and audio-visual communication services. Both were passed by the end of June-beginning of July 2004 without a full understanding on the part of the public opinion. The said texts completed and enhanced legislative restrictions that were multiplied in the last four years.

The new “sages” of the Higher Media Council are not elected but appointed by the principal figures of the State

From now on, the CSA has the authority to prohibit any radio or television program no matter what their broadcasting system is (Hertzian, but also cable, satellite, internet). All editors must have a previous authorization to broadcast something. They will have several months to ask for it and to adjust themselves to the new regulations. From now on, the CSA has the power to revoke the granted authorization and their right to freely express themselves.
The Council will replace the courts: it will censor in an absolute way whatever it considers to be contrary to the “respect for the dignity of man, the pluralistic character of the circulation of the stream of consciousness and opinions” or anything that disrupts “the safeguard of the public order and the needs of the national defense.” In addition, it will have the power to state amendments. Of course, all this is contrary to Article 11 of the August 26, 1987 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen which is the preamble of the French Constitution.

In the past, a newspaper or satellite television editor defaming or disrupting the public order had to answer for his acts in a court of law. Today, nothing has changed for newspaper editors but for those in television things are different for their program can be banned without a judicial authorization if the CSA decides so.
The media considered to be a “pariah” can appeal this decision to the Council of State that will take the necessary time to issue a statement.

Obviously, all this is ridiculous: whatever its purpose is, the CSA has neither coercive power upon foreign satellites nor available means to prevent the audience from viewing foreign programs. It is especially unfair because the regulation depends on whether things were written or said.

The second law was published in the Official Gazette on July 9. That day too, the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism reminded CSA it was its duty to “ensure programs do not encourage hate or violence based on sex, customs, religion or nationality.”
As a request of the Consultative Council of Jewish Organizations (CCJO) of France, the Higher Audiovisual Council launched on Monday, July 12, a censorship proceeding against Iranian Al-Alam and Lebanese Al-Manar networks which are broadcasted through Eutelsat, the European Telecommunications Satellite Organization.

The Al-Manar studio from which news bulletin criticizing the Israeli occupation of Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian territories were broadcasted

Even when what has happened with Al-Alam is completely unknown, what has happened with Al-Manar is not. This network, which basically broadcasts news programs and political debates, also has quite cheap soap operas. Thus, in November 2003, it broadcasted a series about the founders of Zionism which included Anti-Semite parts. The responsible admitted their error and said they had not watched the whole serial before broadcasting it. Besides, the broadcasting of the program was interrupted when they were warned about its content.
Recently, certain French TV broadcasts were sentenced by the courts for encouraging racial hate. The CSA did not even consider the possibility of banning the involved networks. Therefore, it has “two kinds of measures.” In fact, Al-Manar is the Hizbullah network and its programs criticize the Israeli occupation of Palestine, Lebanon and Syria, and Al-Alam is a politically closed network to Al-Manar. So, what is being censored here is the freedom of speech and not a wrong program.

All political parties have been mobilized in Lebanon. Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean Obeid, Minister of Information Michel Samaha and president of the National Audiovisual Council Abdel Hadi Mahfouz have offered their support to Al-Manar. Primer Minister Rafic Hariri has promised to intercede with France.
President of “Voltaire Network for the freedom of speech” Thierry Meyssan has offered his support to the network too. Particularly, he has talked with Ibrahim Mousawi, director of information, and with Naim Qassim, deputy secretary general of Hizbullah.

The Lebanese are even more shocked by the fact that the president of CSA, Dominique Baudis lived with a Lebanese woman for a long time and he visited that country a lot on his vacations. In view of the situation, they have recalled that Mr. Baudis is a member of the Committee of Honor of the France-Israel Association and has represented the interests of the Carlyle Group in France which is the investment fund of the Bush and the Bin Laden families.
They also knew that in April 2002, Mr. Baudis used his power as president of the CSA to dissuade France-Télévision from presenting Mr. Meyssan in the future for he would spread “obviously false information.”

Area covered by the network through the 23 Eutelsat satellites

The whole thing became a comedy when the Eutelsat satellite operator explained that, technically speaking, he could not interrupt the broadcasting of Al-Manar without interrupting at the same time the broadcasting of nine other Arab networks of the very same satellite among which one has an agreement with CSA. On his side, Denis Garreau, Al-Manar’s lawyer, pointed out before the Council of State that the interruption by Eutelsat would have no impact on the French audience due to the fact that the network is also transmitted by Arabsat, upon which CSA has no control and can be accessed through the internet from any computer connected to a broadband connection.

Actually, the maneuver would be aimed at preventing the reception by satellite of programs criticizing Israel not in France, but on the American coasts where Al-Manar can only be accessed through Eutelsat.