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Arte defends decision on European anti-Semitism documentary

The Franco-German TV channel's director has denied charges of censorship and anti-Semitism lobbied at the broadcaster. His defense also hinted at tensions between German broadcasters.

Arte Program Director Alain le Diberder (photo) on Thursday defended his broadcaster's decision to pull the documentary entitled "Chosen and Excluded – The Hate for Jews in Europe" from its planned Arte airtime because the film did not meet approved project requirements.

He laid out the reasons for Arte's cancellation in a letter to Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, who had previously criticized the broadcaster's decision in his own letter to Arte and German public broadcasters WDR and ZDF. Schuster had asked the Arte to reconsider the decision, saying he could not understand why formalistic considerations would derail a broadcast of the documentary.

In his response to Schuster, Diberder said he was deeply affected by accusations of censorship, although he could understand why the Jewish leader was perplexed by the decision. The Arte head reiterated that "honorable and good reasons" had formed the basis of the channel's decision to pull the plug on the documentary's broadcast.

Read: Jewish community leader calls for German anti-Semitism commissioner

Demonstration gegen Antisemitismus in Berlin 14.09.2014 (Reuters/Thomas Peter)

The canceled documentary's agreed-upon focus had been rising anti-Semitism in Europe

A breach of trust - by whom?

In a statement provided by Diberder to DW, Arte reiterated that it had "good reasons" for its decision to cut the broadcast, although the reasons suggested a possible breach of trust between Arte and WDR.

According to the statement, the documentary suggested by Joachim Schröder and Sophie Hafner was a WDR production approved by Arte in April 2015. The documentary was to focus on rising anti-Semitism in European countries, namely Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Hungary and Greece.

But in late 2016, Arte noticed that the film "did not correspond to the proposal which had been submitted: it concentrates primarily on the Middle East and does not address the five designated countries in any way."

Read: Jewish life in Iran was 'always better than in Europe'

The statement added that the delivery of an unchanged final film from WDR "raised issues of principle and even of trust" at Arte.

"This was not formalism; it was a necessary procedural decision taken to ensure editorial responsibility and quality," Diberder told DW in his statement.

It also defended Arte against the "accusation of anti-Semitism" by highlighting the broadcaster's self-described 25-year-long commitment to fighting anti-Semitism.

The statement provided no further information on the film's content.

But in his letter to Arte, Schuster had argued that, though he could not measure the journalistic quality of the film, the work was still "highly relevant" given ongoing anti-Semitism driven by political perspectives on Israel.

Schuster was not alone in his request for Arte to air the documentary. A petition on the civil activist website Change.org calling for Arte to undo the "censorship measurements" and broadcast the documentary had reached 1,910 signatures after five days of its publication. The petition's initiator underscored that, among other things, the film's public financing makes Arte's decision not to broadcast the final production that much more perplexing. 

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