European Satellite Company Chastised by Congress

By Ivan Velinov
Ivan Velinov
Ivan Velinov
October 21, 2008 Updated: October 22, 2008

After months of square-offs between a European satellite company and an independent television channel attempting to restore its broadcast of uncensored news to China, a letter from the U.S Committee on Foreign Affairs weighed in on the fight for information freedom.

“As members of the United States Congress, we are writing to respectfully request that Eutelsat restore New Tang Dynasty Television (NTDTV)'s signal into China as soon as possible,” said a letter addressed last week by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and 64 other members of U.S. Congress in Washington D.C. to the European satellite provider Eutelsat.

NTDTV’s uncensored broadcasts were received by an estimated 30-40 million satellite dishes inside China, providing news and information unfiltered by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s Propaganda Department. But seven weeks before the beginning of the Olympic Games the independent satellite transmissions were disabled.

Eutelsat attributed the abrupt end of the NTDTV transmissions in China to technical problems; however a press freedom watchdog group Reporters Without Borders investigative report said that was not true.

A Eutelsat representative in Beijing, who thought he spoke to a Chinese Propaganda Department official, said in a recorded conversation to an interlocutor from Reporters Without Borders:

“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 reminders 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.’”

The Eutelsat transponders also allowed U.S. government-sponsored channels, including Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA), to broadcast into China, while also allowing independent channels such as NTDTV to be freely received by tens of millions of private satellite dishes across China.

But after the NTDTV signal was brought to a halt due to the alleged technical problem, the other channels renting the same satellite transponder continued their broadcasts, according to NTDTV.

Transponders are units within a satellite that can be rented instead of purchasing an entire satellite which would cost at least $200 million without the launching cost. In order to reach those in China with satellite dishes, NTDTV is now seeking to rent two satellite transponders in an effort they call “Freedom Satellite to China.”

The recent letter from members of Congress says Eutelsat’s actions suggest that the discontinuation of NTDTV was “a premeditated and politically-motivated decision” to expand business with Beijing.

China's Satellite Monopoly

NTDTV, however, has encountered similar problems with other satellite providers who broadcast into Asia, as providers often face intimidation and threats from Chinese authorities.

“We know that it only takes about six satellite companies to cover the entire world,” said NTDTV spokesperson Carrie Hung.

“Chinese state-run television station CCTV is on 33 satellites around the world. So, obviously the communist authorities in China are using this to monopolize the satellite industry.”

During a recent Eutelsat shareholders meeting in Caen, France, the issue with independent news channel NTDTV was brought to the forefront of discussion once again, and the vice president of Eutelsat, Jean-Paul Brillaud, attempted to back up the company’s position by saying that "NTDTV misunderstood … however we can’t bring back the satellite from outer space to show you that it [the broadcast suspension] is due to technical problems.”

But Hung disagrees with Eutelsat’s position that the problem originates from a technical problem.

“Many Western satellite companies have caved into pressure from Beijing, and because of short-term business incentives,” she said.

Meanwhile, protesters representing the Falun Gong spiritual practice, Friends of Tibet, Christians and other sympathizers gathered at the European Commission in Brussels a few weeks ago to demand freedom of press in China.

Referring to the milk poisoning scandal, protesters said that Eutelsat is in part responsible for the inhumane suffering of many innocent children and their parents because the company suspended the open dialog that NTDTV had exemplified, which is perceived as a threat to the rule of communist authorities.

“We support NTDTV in their attempt to resume their broadcast in China,” said Inge Herman, president of Belgium Friends of Tibet.

Authorities in China have reportedly held a tight grip on the press, and have done that at all cost, including regularly intimidating and arresting journalists for their efforts to accurately report events. Officials and their cronies have been spying on internet users and illegally wiretapping phone conversations.

China continues to be the world’s leading jailer of journalists, a dishonor the communist country has held for nine consecutive years.

“NTDTV’s mission is to bring the free flow of information to China,” said Hung.

Ivan Velinov