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Conseil d’État forces watchdog to look again at Eutelsat’s Russian business

France’s highest court, the Conseil d’État, has rejected media regulator Arcom’s contention that it is not competent to stop Eutelsat from transmitting Russian channels that disseminate state propaganda and misinformation, forcing the watchdog to reconsider its position on the issue.

The Conseil d’État said there was “serious doubt about the legality” of Arcom’s position on the issue, and ordered it to take a second look at a request for it to stop broadcasting three channels that are available in Russia, Russian-occupied Ukraine and the Baltic states.

Freedom of the press advocacy group Reporters Sans Frontières had pursued the case with the Conseil d’État, having earlier called on Arcom it to stop Eutelsat from distributing channels Rossiya 1, Perviy Kanal and NTV in Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic countries, citing the channels’ inciting of violence and hate against the Ukrainian people and incitement of genocide.

Arcom responded to the ruling by saying it had taken note and would re-examine the case ,taking into account all consequences of its decision.

Reporters Sans Frontières hailed the ruling, arguing that it would force Eutelsat to cut off the channels.

“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,” said Reporters Sans Frontières secretary-general Christophe Deloire.

“This victory is a very important first step. 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,” said RSF lawyer Patrice Spinosi.

Pressure has been building on Eutelsat to look again at its Russian business in the light of Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine.

At the end of November, Ukraine’s own media regulator, the National Council, sent a letter to Eutelsat CEO Eva Bernecke calling on the company to “stop circumventing EU Sanctions regarding the ban on the distribution of Russian propaganda channels”.

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