France is to rule on Saturday whether the Hizb Allah funded network should be removed from EU airwaves after it broadcast an interview with an "expert" who spoke of "Zionist attempts to transmit dangerous diseases like Aids via exports to the Arab states".

Mobilising support for a legal move that Lebanon considers the product of Jewish pressure groups, Beirut has called on help from its diplomatic corps and the Arab League, as well as private and public Arab media organisations.

In a solidarity meeting with Al-Manar in Beirut on Friday, the country's Higher Audiovisual Council threatened to cancel privileges granted to French media outlets in Lebanon should Paris take measures against the channel.

Exchange of threats

"If Al-Manar is banned, the Higher Audiovisual Council (HAC) will have to review the privileges granted to some French media outlets," said HAC chairman Abd al-Hadi Mahfuz.

"If Al-Manar is banned, the Higher Audiovisual Council will have to review the privileges granted to some French media outlets" 

Abd al-Hadi Mahfuz,
Chairman, Higher Audiovisual Council, Lebanon

"These media outlets are the only ones to enjoy special treatments in Lebanon that exempts them from implementing certain clauses of the audio-visual law in Lebanon," he added.

A number of French radio and television stations have been allowed to broadcast their programmes on Lebanese state media at certain times.

Despite the spectre of punitive measures, Mahfuz said he was "optimistic" that France's Higher Audiovisual Council (CSA) "would not be influenced by the pro-Israeli lobby".

Muhammad Baalbaki, director of the Lebanese press syndicate, called on public and private Arab media institutions "to back Al-Manar because their turn will come next if they do not show solidarity".

Arab League contacted

Forty-eight hours before Saturday's ruling, Lebanese Information Minister Elie Ferzli wrote to Arab League chief Amr Musa, asking for a review of the privileges granted to some French media outlets operating in the Arab world "which carry anti-Arab, racist material that incites hate".

Foreign Minister Mahmud Hammud also contacted Musa and asked Lebanon's ambassador in Paris, Sylvie Fadl Allah, to raise the matter with the French foreign ministry.

Lebanese students demonstrated
in support of the Hizb Allah station

Al-Manar was authorised to broadcast inside the European Union last month by satellite after it signed an agreement with France's (CSA) not to incite hatred or violence.

But on Wednesday, the CSA asked France's highest administrative court, the state council, to outlaw Al-Manar for accusing Israel of disseminating Aids in the Arab world.

Although Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom has praised Paris and took credit for its action against the station, the often strained relations between Israel and Paris have taken a turn for the worse in recent days.

On Friday, Israeli newspapers ridiculed France's ambassador to Tel Aviv, Gerard Araud, accusing him of having forgotten his diplomatic manners by accusing Israelis of having an "anti-French neurosis".

"There is a sort of anti-French neurosis in this country," Araud told French military radio on Thursday. He said the feeling "has led to France being so hated in Israel".