|Rapid TV News: Chris Forrester, on 13-07-2008|
For the best part of a month there have been grumbles levied against what some say is unfair treatment of a Chinese-language channel beamed into Europe, New Tang Dynasty TV (NTDTV, pictured, left). Now the stakes are being dramatically raised.Back on June 16 Eutelsat, initially blaming a technical problem, curtailed NTDTV transmissions from its W5 satellite. However, it is also widely acknowledged that NTDTV, a station that supports opposition group Falun Gong, was frequently critical of China’s ruling system.
Later today (July 14), and with the date commemorating Bastille Day in France, a press conference is being held in Ottawa, Canada, hosted by Reporters Without Borders (RWB), the highly-respected watchdog of journalists’ interests. Katherine Borlongan, Executive Director of Reporters Without Borders Canada, and Joe Wang, President of NTDTV Canada, will be “calling on the Canadian and French people, the Canadian and French governments, as well as all freedom-loving people to urge Eutelsat to resume NTDTV's broadcast to China right away,” according to a statement dated July 11.
Eutelsat on June 17 that the W5 satellite experienced serious technical problems and that the company was forced to reduce the number of active transponders. Muddying the waters somewhat is a taped telephone conversation, made on June 23, where a Eutelsat representative in China seemingly admits other motives. “It was our company's CEO in France who decided to stop NTDTV's signal," said the employee. "It was because we got repeated complaints and reminders from the Chinese government." Also at stake are Chinese contracts potentially worth millions. "Two years ago, [SARFT] 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,'" said the employee. "All we want is a gesture from China… yet the Chinese ministries or bureaus, none of them offered any gesture."
The Eutelsat representative admits in the taped conversation that there could be fresh pressure from the US government to reinstate the channel, and specifically talks about implied threats to curtail Eutelsat’s US-generated transponder contracts.
RWB now say: “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.”
Reporters Without Borders is therefore asking Eutelsat CEO Giuliano Berretta to quickly reverse the decision to suspend broadcasts by NTDTV. “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,” the statement added.
That W5 suffered problems is undoubted. As Rapid TV News reported on June 18, the craft had a power anomaly on the night of June 16-17, which resulted in Eutelsat closing down four transponders one of which was carrying the Falun Gong station. A statement from Eutelsat on Friday (July 11) confirmed the power problems, and the loss of four transponders following a thorough investigation of the problems.