The only signal into China providing mainlanders with free and uncensored satellite news has been cut off amid calls of foul play. Independent station, New Tang Dynasty Television (NTDTV), headquarterd in New York, had their signal abruptly cut by satellite carrier Eutelsat on 16 June. Eutelsat told NTDTV it was due to a “power anomaly” but evidence suggests it was a politically motivated decision.
Recorded admissions of both a Chinese diplomat in Italy and an employee of the European-based satellite company have revealed that pressure from Beijing and business opportunities are behind the blackout.
Chinese Ambassador Caught On Tape
Chinese ambassador to Italy, Sun Yuxi, described the political pressure he directly placed on Eutelsat, as well as the negotiations between the parties, in a recording obtained by the World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong (WOIPFG) on July 17.
Sun admitted that Eutelsat immediately reported to him after discontinuing NTDTV's signal and refers directly to Eutelsat's CEO Giuliano Berretta in the recording.
"Once he switched off [the signal]—he especially did this for us—he had people tell my technical support staff to pass the news onto me, the Ambassador, that the issue the Ambassador has spoken with us multiple times has already been taken care of. They said that this… and anything of Falun Gong will never be presented again."
"We also expressed our encouragement to them. [We said that] from now on, don't stick with that side; you should collaborate with us. You also should propagandise China from a positive perspective. They also repeatedly apologized, promising to never allow anything like this to happen again."
Sun also touched on the benefits Eutelsat could receive for cutting the signal.
"They want to develop collaboration with China Central Television (CCTV). In addition to this, they want to discuss collaboration with our aviation industry regarding some European satellite, some meteorological satellite. They want to borrow our carrier to launch their satellites," Sun said.
The full transcript can be found on the WOIPFG website.
NTDTV began broadcasting into China four years ago and is one of the few independent Chinese media in the world that is not controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. NTDTV covers a lot of human rights issues, including the repression in Tibet, the persecution of Falun Gong, underground Christian churches, dissidents and human right advocates.
Reporters Without Borders Obtain Evidence
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released a report July 10 that revealed Eutelsat CEO, Giuliano Berretta, was directly involved in shutting down NTDTV's transmission into China.
Both the investigator and the Eutelsat employee's names were withheld by RSF out of concern for their safety.
“It was our company’s CEO in France who decided to stop NTDTV’s signal,” the employee said. “We could have turned off any of the transponders. (…) It was because we got repeated complaints and reminder from the Chinese government.”
The employee continued to tell the interlocutor that it was due to business prospects with China that Eutelsat decided to cancel NTDTV. The full transcript can be found on the RSF website.
Reporters Without Borders said in the report: “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.”
NZ Politicians Express Concern
United Future leader, Peter Dunne, is concerned the Chinese people are being deprived from the freedom of information and the freedom of choice.
“I find it bizarre that the company [Eutelsat] can be saying that there was a technical problem that is taking so long to resolve… It’s all too convenient, right on the eve of the Olympic Games, for this to be a technical difficulty,” Mr Dunne said.
“I certainly think that Eutelsat has got to revisit its position and allow NTDTV to continue its broadcast into China.”
Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said it appears the Europeans have come under pressure from the Chinese to block the satellite.
“Obviously we’ve been calling on the Europeans to do everything they can to protect freedom of speech. You know, the European tradition is one of freedom of speech…and we would be encouraging the European satellite company in order to actually make sure that freedom of speech continues to exist and they don’t suppress the satellite signal.”
Eutelsat Finally Buckled Under Pressure
NTDTV New Zealand spokesperson, Gina Shakespear said Eutelsat has been under pressure from the Chinese regime for years to shut NTDTV down and they finally buckled.
“It's no surprise… There is a lot of financial gain at stake for Eutelsat.”
She said NTDTV's main concern was for the Chinese people.
“It's a tragedy for NTD but more so for the Chinese people. Chinese people rely on NTD, it's their lifeline and now it's been cut. We're getting a lot of calls from the mainland every day asking what has happened to the signal.”
She said Mr Beretta's conduct has clearly violated Eutelsat's own company constitution. “As well as article 3 of a convention governing the operations of satellite companies, outlining equality of access, pluralism, and non-discrimination.”
Eutelsat has provided no update or additional explanation to NTDTV about the continued service blackout, Ms Shakespear said. In addition on 7 July, Eutelsat formally notified NTDTV that it was discontinuing its service to NTDTV, despite their contract still being valid.
Calls made to Eutelsat for comment have gone unanswered for over a month.
Additional reporting by Shaun Yu, Bonnie Liu, and Shaoshao Chen.