French regulator told to reconsider RSF’s request for ban on Russian propaganda broadcasts by Eutelsat
In response to a request by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), France’s Council of State has overruled French broadcasting regulator ARCOM’s assertion that it lacks the legal authority to order Eutelsat, the French satellite operator, to stop transmitting the signals of Russian propaganda media on its satellites.
The Council of State, which acts as France’s supreme court for administrative justice, issued this summary ruling today, on 9 December, in response to RSF’s request on 17 November for an injunction rejecting ARCOM’s claim in a letter on 29 September that it lacked the authority to order Eutelsat to stop carrying the Russian propaganda channels.
The Council ruled that there is a “serious doubt about the legality” of ARCOM’s position and ordered the regulator to reexamine RSF’s request that it instruct Eutelsat to stop broadcasting three Russian TV channels, Rossiya 1, Perviy Kanal and NTV, to Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic countries.
“This decision is a victory for the right to reliable news and information, and for the fight against the Kremlin's war propaganda. We are pleased that our legal arguments prevailed against a regulator that resorted to the most minimalist possible reading of the law to justify its claim to lack authority, and used all sorts of arguments, even the most obviously spurious ones, as grounds for taking no action.
By recognising there is a serious doubt as to the legality of ARCOM's refusal to act, the Council of State is in effect forcing ARCOM to order the French satellite operator to stop facilitating the provision of Russian war propaganda to no fewer than 15 million satellite TV subscribers, who represent approximately one-third of Russian households subscribing to TV channels, or 25% of all households in the Russian Federation.
“This victory is a very important first step,” RSF lawyer Patrice Spinosi said. “It reminds ARCOM of its duty to protect media freedom and France's international obligations. The way is now open to a general ban on French satellite operators such as Eutelsat from contributing – beyond the European Union’s borders or in territories illegally occupied by the Russian army – to the dissemination of political propaganda and reporting that incites hatred, violence and war crimes.”
The Council of State ruling notes that “neither ARCOM nor Eutelsat seriously disputes the reality, ongoing nature and extent of the harmful consequences likely to result from broadcasting the programs in question to the audiences who receive them.”
RSF has for months has been condemning the way Eutelsat's satellites are used to transmit the three TV channels that are the spearheads of the Kremlin's war propaganda, constantly broadcasting content that incites hatred and violence against the Ukrainian population, calls for mass extermination and even incitement to genocide. It will now be difficult for ARCOM to refuse to use its regulatory powers.
RSF thanks all those who have assisted this five-month campaign, especially the Denis Diderot Committee and the lawyer Patrice Spinosi and his staff. RSF now calls on ARCOM to accept the consequences of the Council of State's decision and to give Eutelsat formal notice to stop broadcasting these three Russian channels. RSF also urges the regulator to play its role in the defence of the European news and information space.