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French satellite giant accused of broadcasting ‘mouthpiece of Hezbollah’

Journalists at the entrance of a building housing the Lebanon-based Al Mayadeen TV
Eutelsat’s broadcasts of Al Mayadeen TV are facing an investigation from Italy’s communications watchdog - WAEL HAMZEH/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

A French satellite giant backed by the British taxpayer has been accused of transmitting a TV channel denounced by Israel as the “mouthpiece of Hezbollah”.

Eutelsat, which completed a merger with UK satellite company OneWeb earlier this year, carries the TV channel Al Mayadeen, a Lebanese station that it broadcasts across the Middle East and Europe.

The Paris-listed space company transmits signals from hundreds of TV channels around the world. Eutelsat has insisted it has a policy of “neutrality” over its broadcasts, but it has previously faced scrutiny over some of the channels that rely on its satellites.

Last year, it was ordered by French regulators to stop broadcasting Russian channels accused of amplifying Kremlin propaganda.

In October, it pulled broadcasts of Al Aqsa TV, a channel affiliated with Hamas, after the terror group’s attack on Israel that killed more than 1,200 people.

The Government is now a major shareholder in Eutelsat, owning roughly 11pc of the business, after it completed a merger with OneWeb, the UK satellite business, in September.

The Government holds a board seat, as does the French state, having originally bailed out a bankrupt OneWeb in 2020 with a £400m investment.

Last month, the Israeli government banned broadcasts of Al Mayadeen TV in Israel. Yoav Gallant, the country’s Defence Minister and member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, claimed the channel was “in practice, the mouthpiece of Hezbollah”.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, a member of the right-wing Likud party
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, a member of the right-wing Likud party, claimed Al Mayadeen TV was Hezbollah affiliated - REUTERS/Shir Torem

A spokesman for Al Mayadeen said the channel was “not affiliated with any party, religion, or sect whatsoever”.

The spokesman said the Israeli government’s claims were intended to justify “silencing journalists and media institutions”.

In its online content, the channel has published columns with Arabic titles such as “The Holocaust – that great deception”, the Jewish Chronicle reported last year.

In a report, the Diderot Committee, a group founded by academic Andre Lange that has campaigned against broadcasts of Russian war propaganda, said Al Mayadeen had given airtime to “various personalities promoting apology for terrorism”, adding the channel had been “broadcast to the Middle East, North Africa and Europe by two Eutelsat satellites”.

In its code of ethics, Eutelsat has insisted it is a neutral provider of critical infrastructure and said it holds “no opinion on the content delivered by its satellites”.

The code adds the group “strictly refrains from any judgement of ideological or political positioning and unequivocally follows court decisions, and instructions from relevant regulators at national and international levels”.

Eutelsat’s broadcasts of Al Mayadeen TV are now facing scrutiny from European regulators. According to Mr Lange, Italy’s communications watchdog has launched an investigation into Eutelsat’s broadcasts of Al Mayadeen, which he said was conducted without proper authorisation.

In a letter to Mr Lange seen by The Telegraph, the Italian watchdog said there was an “ongoing investigation”. A spokesman for AGCOM, Italy’s broadcast watchdog, said it “cannot release information on an ongoing inspection activity”.

A Eutelsat spokesman said: “Eutelsat Group has not been contacted by AGCOM in respect of any review they may decide to undertake. As with any such potential review, Eutelsat Group will cooperate if contacted and will adhere to any verdict reached by any applicable regulator.”

Al Mayadeen has broadcast multiple interviews with senior leaders from Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

In an interview with the channel in October, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who is based away from the conflict in Qatar, said the group needed the “blood of the women, children and elderly” to “awaken within us the revolutionary spirit”.

A Lebanese University student and friend of late reporter Farah Omar holds a candle, a flower and a picture of her during a candlelit vigil in her memory in front of the University building in Beirut
Farah Omar was one of two Al Mayadeen journalists killed in an apparent Israeli bombardment of southern Lebanon - WAEL HAMZEH/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

In November, two journalists from Al Mayadeen were killed on Israel’s border with Lebanon in an apparent Israeli military strike. The channel denounced the killing as deliberately targeting its reporters.

Israel said the reporters had been present in a “dangerous” area of live hostilities and it was reviewing the incident.

In December last year, Eutelsat blocked three Russian TV channels from being broadcast after an order from France’s telecoms regulator.

The French watchdog blocked the channels for their coverage of Russia invasion of Ukraine, accusing them of “repeated incitement to hatred, violence and numerous shortcomings to honesty of information”.

The Government was contacted for comment.

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