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French TV station pulls plug on polemicist after Muslim comments

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Eric Zemmour. AFP PHOTO JACQUES DEMARTHON

French politicians and commentators on Saturday both hailed and condemned the decision of TV channel iTélé to end its contract with right-wing pundit Eric Zemmour following an uproar over comments in which he appeared to back the deportion of Muslims.


The news channel released a statement late Friday announcing it would not continue to air Zemmour's program in January, after broadcasting it since 2003.

Zemmour, a bestselling author and media commentator known for controversial attacks against Europe, immigrants, Muslims and what he calls the country's elites, indicated he would not react "for the moment".

Controversy surrounding the commentator went up a notch last week, after comments in an Italian newspaper led anti-racist groups to file a complaint for incitement to racial hatred.

Officials at iTélé said they were aware Zemmour might use the dismissal to pose as a victim of censorship.

"We are very concerned about freedom of expression," editorial director Céline Pigalle told French newspaper Le Monde.

"We have defended [Zemmour] for ten years, so his ideas could be heard, challenged and debated. But today, we have the impression that he's the one who makes the rules about what to discuss. There is less and less the feeling of debate, and dialogue has become more and more difficult, even impossible."

The dismissal provoked an outpouring of support from politicians who felt Zemmour's freedom of expression had been violated.

"The censorship of Zemmour by iTélé is detestable," tweeted far-right Front National party leader Marine Le Pen.

Eric Ciotti, an MP with the centre-right UMP party, said the move was was "not good news for democracy".

On the left of the political spectrum, most voices hailed the cancellation.

"iTélé has made a good decision in turning the page on Zemmour. RTL should do the same", tweeted Socialist MP Alexis Bachelay, referring to a French radio station with which the commentator also has a show.

Others offered little words of sympathy for Zemmour, but did voice concern over freedom of expression.

"Should he be allowed to say his insanity? I would lean towards saying yes, even if I admit I find it insufferable," said former Green MEP and May 1968 student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit. "In the name of liberty and diversity in the media."