New Tang Dynasty TV has used Eutelsat's W5 satellite for the past year to beam its programming into the People's Republic of China, where it could be seen by anyone with access to a satellite dish.
Now, the independent network may lose its channel into China.
On March 22 in Paris a French court declined to issue an emergency injunction ordering the satellite provider Eutelsat to continue carrying the signal of New Tang Dynasty T.V. (NTDTV) on its W5 satellite. NTDTV will now seek relief in another French court. Its contract to use the W5 satellite expires on April 15.
The decision by Eutelsat not to carry NTDTV is the latest in a series of setbacks in the effort to broadcast uncensored Chinese-language programming into China.
NTDTV first had an agreement in principle with the Atlanta-based satellite operator ADTH. Reporters without Borders (RSF) reports that in February, 2003 ADTH broke the agreement, because it feared losing contracts to carry other Chinese-language programming.
The New Skies Satellites (NSS) company initially agreed to beam NTDTV into China, but then three days after the start of the broadcasts, encrypted the signal, so that no one in China could see it. RSF reports the decision to encrypt followed threats of financial reprisals against the company made by Beijing.
Eutelsat: Bought, Bullied or just Doing Business?
In court, the lawyer for Eutelsat, Jean-Michel Lepretre denied Eutelsat had come under any official pressure. According to Lepretre, carrying NTDTV was not profitable. The decision not to renew the contract was "an example of globalization."
A spokeswoman for the company, Fredreique Gautier, explains, "This was a year-long contract precisely because we were testing the market. But at the moment the beam that
carries NTDTV is operating at just three percent of capacity."
Others view Eutelsat's decision differently. The International Federation of Journalists reports Eutelsat has been under pressure from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for a year, with Beijing making it clear that Eutelsat risked losing business opportunities related to the broadcasting of the Olympic Games.
RSF reports that the Chinese government instructed Eutelsat to "put an end to this broadcasting immediately" in May 2004. The Chinese government claimed this broadcast was "illegal" in China.
62 members of the European parliament complained in a letter to Guiliano Beretta, the chair of Eutelsat, that his company was violating European values and the laws and conventions that govern his company, "including the European Convention on Transfrontier Television and the European Telecommunications Satellite Organization's Intergovernmental Convention."
NTDTV, in a statement on its website, recalls the statements made by M. Beretta himself, in a meeting with the NTDTV board in April, 2004, "The European values of pluralism and fairness are embedded in the legal Convention that governs Eutelsat… Respect for pluralism is a vital factor that distinguishes Eutelsat from the rest of the satellite industry… It would need an order of the highest court in France to make him remove our channel…"
A viewer from mainland China, in a statement posted on the NTDTV website, sees Eutelsat as succumbing not only to Chinese, but to French pressure, "French President Chirac… exported to China the equipment for disrupting short-wave radio transmission, promoted lifting the arms embargo, and he now tries to shutdown NTDTV. Chinese people are really disgusted with him."
Freedom of the Press and "Globalization"
Joe Zhao, a member of the board of NTDTV, knows very well why his company has attracted such animosity from the CCP. "We reported on SARS when the PRC's media did not. The same with the death of the beloved former president of China, Zhao Ziyang. We report on the persecution of Falun Gong, exposing the CCP's brutality and lies. Recently we began broadcasting the Epoch Times 'Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party.' Of course the CCP wants us off the air."
In a statement posted on NTDTV's website, an audience member testifies to the power of such coverage in a land where all information is controlled. "I am a peasant in China. I've been saving my money by living frugally so that I can have money to buy a satellite dish. Now that I have just bought a dish to watch NTDTV secretly with the people in my village, to let more people in my village know more about the true voice outside, now all of a sudden I have come to hear of this horrible news."
M. Lepretre defended Eutelsat's actions as merely an instance of "globalization." As the economy becomes global, the standards of one region may come into contradiction with the standards of another. Should European satellite executives decide what programming may be viewed in China? Whose standards should rule?
Asked this question, Joe Zhao recalls something M. Beretta said in April. "He said to allow China to control what Eutelsat broadcasts would be dangerous for Eutelsat's own business. I have thought about the meaning of his statement. The right to the freedom of the press depends on the responsibility the press has to tell the truth. Can Eutelsat now claim for itself this right, when we now see it abdicating its responsibility?"