European satellite company Eutelsat turned off its client New Tang Dynasty Television (NTDTV)’s broadcast to China via its W5 satellite on June 16, 2008, due to “technical problems.” As the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) moved its Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA) programs off of the W5 on August 1, NTDTV has issued a statement urging Eutelsat to resume its broadcast on the freed transponder.
NTDTV spokesperson Kelly Hong states that Giuliano Berretta, the CEO of Eutelsat, shut down NTDTV’s signal in a move to please Beijing authorities, which is supported by an investigation by Reports Without Borders. However, Eutelsat claims that termination was due to technical problems, and has no transponder available to resume NTDTV’s broadcast. With the BBG’s recent move, Eutelsat has no excuses but to fulfill its contractual obligation to immediately put NTDTV on the vacant transponder.
“The Beijing Olympics is just around the corner. This is a critical moment for the Chinese people to know real information and for the world to know the real China, said Hong. “We are calling on the international community, Eutelsat’s board of directors and share holders, the media and supporters of uncensored information to challenge Mr. Berretta’s short-sighted decision and to rescue the only free satellite window over China.”
Eutelsat Satisfies Beijing
The day it stopped transmitting NTDTV, Eutelsat issued a online statement that its W5 satellite had suffered a power anomaly, forcing the company to reduce a number of transponders and stop broadcasting several TV stations. It promised to provide a technical report in detail within two days, but NTDTV has yet to receive anything.
Hong says that evidence indicates Eutelsat was heavily pressured by Beijing and enticed by the potential of large contracts. The decision to shut down NTDTV was made by Berretta himself, without approval from the board and the awareness of its shareholders.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders issued a press release on July 10 stating that the shutdown was a premeditated political move. The report disclosed inside information on Eutelsat, including revealing its secret backup transponders.
Under tremendous pressure from the international community, Eutelsat issued a statement on July 25, claiming that it was not discriminating against NTDTV.
Eutelsat Has No Excuse for Continued Broadcast Suspension
Hong says that Eutelsat has the ability to help NTDTV resolve the broadcasting problem; however, the company continues to cite “technical problems” in an attempt to delay doing so and has yet to give any formal explanation.
“Even if Eutelsat has no secret backup transponder, considering that VOA and RFA have now been removed from the W5 Satellite, obviously a vacant transponder is left in the W5 Satellite. Eutelsat has no excuse to continue to cut off our signal,” explained Hong.
Hong says that NTDTV will ask Eutelsat to honor their contract and immediately resume broadcasting NTDTV in mainland China.
Hong also calls on other shareholders on Eutelsat’s board to change the CEO’s decision. “Without conscience or principle, the CEO of Eutelsat sold out for profits and bent to the will of the Chinese Communist Party. It not only violates Eutelsat’s own charter, but has also severely harmed Eutelsat’s business reputation and long-term success,” she exclaimed.
Call for U.S. Government to Exert Pressure on Eutelsat
Hong says that the U.S. government can still have a profound effect on Eutelsat’s decision as its largest client. With nearly 40 percent of Eutelsat’s contracts, the United States has significant ability to restrict the company financially.
In 2005, when Eutelsat first terminated its contract with NTDTV, under a joint effort among NTDTV viewers, supporters, and a government intervention involving various countries, councilors and civil organizations, Eutelsat finally resumed its contract with NTDTV. “The U.S. government played a critical role in joining with other international forces to make this happen. We are grateful for this,” she said.
“We again urge the U.S. government and President Bush to exert pressure on Eutelsat and to protect and expand NTDTV’s broadcast in Asia. This also regards the spirit of the very foundation on which the United States build its country. The money from American taxpayers should not be used to support a company that helps a dictatorial regime throttle freedom of media,” said Hong.