EU Regulators Eye Bans On Hate Broadcasts

Europe's public broadcasting regulators agreed during a March 17 meeting in Brussels to coordinate procedures to combat hate broadcasts, organizers said.

BRUSSELS (The Hollywood Reporter) -- Europe's public broadcasting regulators agreed during a March 17 meeting in Brussels to coordinate procedures to combat hate broadcasts, organizers said.

The move comes after French regulators acted to block the Hezbollah-run Al Manar and Iran-based Sahar satellite channels, which were broadcasting anti-Semitic material. The meeting came as the Dutch regulator announced that it would ban the Al Manar broadcasts.

EU media commissioner Viviane Reding hosted the meeting, which gathered regulators from all 25 European Union nations. She said the rights to freedom of speech and access to information are cornerstones of a democratic and pluralist society. "However, the respect of human dignity is a European value of equal importance. We therefore cannot tolerate racist audiovisual content in Europe," she said in a statement.

The regulators agreed to improve information exchanges and cooperation to balance EU rules guaranteeing freedom of expression with bans on broadcasts that incite hatred. They also agreed to link up their channel authorization databases and perhaps set up a central database, or a restricted Internet forum, in which to discuss problematic cases.

The regulators also discussed how the EU's Television Without Frontiers directive could be applied to broadcasts from beyond the EU's territory.

The directive states: "Member states shall ensure that broadcasts do not contain any incitement to hatred on grounds of race, sex, religion or nationality." But the separate national authorities currently handle the application of the principle. A key issue is deciding who should be responsible for handling the issue, and regulators agreed that this will be addressed in the current revision of the directive.

Gregory Paulger, the European Commission's director in charge of audiovisual, media and Internet affairs, said a contact point would be set up in each EU country to handle these issues. He also said they would reinforce cooperation with broadcasters from the Mediterranean, where many new Islamic channels are being set up and aimed for broadcast at Europe.

He admitted, however, that it would be more difficult to extend rules for broadcasters to audiovisual content that is freely available via the Internet. The review of the Television Without Frontiers directive will aim to address that issue.

Each EU country must ensure that broadcasters under its jurisdiction respect the rules. The directive lists a series of practical criteria to handle satellite broadcasts from third countries. Member states must ensure that broadcasters comply with EU rules if they use a frequency granted by that member state, use a satellite capacity appertaining to that member state or use a satellite uplink situated in that member state.

Last December, France's highest administrative court, the Conseil d'Etat, ordered the French-based Eutelsat Co. to shut down Al Manar broadcasts after accusations that its programs were anti-Semitic and could incite hatred.

The same month, the U.S. State Department put Al Manar on the Terrorist Exclusion List due to the channel's "incitement of terrorist activity." Last month, the French council for radio and television, the Conseil Superieur de l'Audiovisuel, banned the Iranian satellite television network Sahar for similar reasons.

Most of the programs broadcast from outside the EU use satellite capacities provided either by Paris-based Eutelsat or by Luxembourg-based Astra to reach European viewers.