The International Short Film Festival Oberhausen (May 1-6) has become embroiled in controversy after announcing that it intends to ban official representatives of the US, UK, Spanish and Italian governments from attending the festival following their policy on Iraq.

In an official statement, the festival said that "the world's oldest and largest short film festival has discovered and presented many important artists from the whole world in the course of now almost 50 years. The work of our festival like every other international one is geared to understanding between peoples."

The festival's move, however, was severely criticised by North Rhine-Westphalia's Culture Minister Michael Vesper and has now drawn a protest from Oberhausen's media partner of the last four years, 3sat.

After consultation with the broadcaster's partners ORF, SF DRS and ARD, 3sat chief Gottfried Langenstein said in a statement that, "especially in difficult times, culture has an important bridging function. It must not take part in putting up barbed wire between peoples. On the contrary, it must do everything in its power to remove confrontation through an alliance of the intellect".

Langenstein indicated that 3sat would step down from its function as media partner "should the organisers of the Oberhausen Short Film Festival hold to their ban." However, festival director Lars-Henrik Gass countered in a dpa agency report that he hoped that a meeting with Langenstein would be able to change 3sat's view.

"Different strategies must also be possible between equal partners on the path to peace", Gass argued.