10 July 2008
European satellite operator Eutelsat suppresses independent Chinese-language TV station NTDTV to satisfy Beijing
Previously unpublished conversation by Eutelsat employee confirms move was politically motivated
Reporters Without Borders calls on Giuliano Berretta, the CEO of the European satellite company Eutelsat, to quickly reverse its decision to suspend independent Chinese-language broadcaster NTDTV’s use of Eutelsat’s W5 satellite to broadcast to Asia.
Eutelsat claims it was forced to suspend NTDTV (New Tang Dynasty Television) on 16 June because of a technical problem but a recorded conversation with an employee of Eutelsat show it was a premeditated, politically-motivated decision violating the free flow of information and the convention under which Eutelsat operates.
“The real reason for the decision to suppress NTDTV exposes how Eutelsat operates in China,” the press freedom organisation said. “The company’s credibility is at stake and we urge its shareholders to intervene as quickly as possible so that NTDTV can resume broadcasting on this satellite. If that is not done, none of the TV companies that are Eutelsat clients will ever be sure they could not also be arbitrarily disconnected one day because of their content.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “NTDTV’s broadcasts irked the Chinese government because, thanks to this satellite, they could be freely received in tens of millions of Chinese homes. Their suspension just a few weeks ahead of the Olympic Games looks like a favour provided by Eutelsat with the aim of obtaining new deals. Eutelsat tried to drop NTDTV once before, in 2005, but an international campaign forced it to sign a new long term contract.”
In a recorded conversation on 23 June with an interlocutor the employee thought was a Chinese Propaganda Department official, a Eutelsat representative in Beijing said:
“It was our company’s CEO in France who decided to stop NTDTV’s signal. (...)We could have turned off any of the transponders. (...) It was because we got repeated complaints and reminder from the Chinese government. (...) Two years ago, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television kept saying the same thing over and over: ‘Stop that TV station before we begin to talk.’
Reporters Without Borders is posting a transcript of this conversation on its website (www.rsf.org) and it has an audio recording that is available to the media.
A New York-based TV station with links to the Falun Gong spiritual movement, NTDTV began broadcasting in Chinese four years ago. Its programmes are very different from the content on China’s state TV stations. There is a great deal of coverage of human rights issues, including the repression in Tibet and of religious groups such as Falungong and the underground Christian churches.
The day after it stopped transmitting NTDTV, Eutelsat issued a statement saying the W5 satellite has suffered serious technical problems that had forced the company to reduce the number of transponders and stop broadcasting several TV stations.
Eutelsat and Thales, the French company that made the satellite, are doing more and more business in China. It was Thales that manufactured Zhongxing-9, the satellite that was put in orbit last month to guarantee good coverage of the Olympic Games. Eutelsat has signed a contract with China to use its Long March rocket to launch Eutelsat satellites. The Wall Street Journal wrote in April: “Eutelsat for years has been trying to find a way to penetrate the Chinese market, and launch contracts are widely seen as one way to help reach that goal.”
As a company headquartered in France, Eutelsat is nonetheless obliged to respect the principles of equality of access, pluralism and non-discrimination enshrined in article 3 of a convention governing the operations of satellite companies.
Ever since NTDTV was launched in February 2002, the Chinese government has been trying to get its broadcasts suppressed by pressuring satellite operators and governments.