Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Chinese TV station blasts satellite provider for pulling plug

Agence France Presse - 15 March 2005

Media lobbyists and EU lawmakers threw their weight Tuesday behind an independent Chinese-language broadcaster taking legal action against satellite provider Eutelsat for dropping its programs to China.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) claimed Eutelsat has bowed to pressure from Beijing over the imminent end of a contract to broadcast programs by New Tang Dynasty TV (NTDTV) to China and Asia.

Eutelsat denied it was reacting to pressure from Beijing, saying it was part of a purely commercial transaction.

But IFJ head Aidan White said: "Without a credible explanation, we can only conclude that this is simply a craven sacrifice of principle," adding: "It diminishes free expression to satisfy the intolerance of Beijing."

NTDTV board member Joe Zhao, who travelled from the broadcaster's US base for court action by the broadcaster in Paris Wednesday, lamented that Eutelsat is set to pull the plug on his channel's programs this week.

"Eutelsat is preparing to slam shut the 'open satellite window' this week," he told a press conference in Brussels.

"Instead of expanding the historic opening of the world's largest society to the free flow of broadcast information, Eutelsat is choosing to help Beijing reassert full content control over satellite broadcasting," he added.

But the Paris-based satellite operator rejected the accusation, saying it was a purely commercial move at the end of a one-year contract between NTDTV and a London-based distributor of its services, London Satellite Exchange.

"We're not reacting to pressure from the Chinese authorities or any other authorities," spokeswoman Vanessa O'Connor told AFP, noting that Eutelsat has no direct commercial relationship with NTDTV.

"We have a one-year contact with LSE, which has been honoured," she added.

European Union (EU) lawmaker Charles Tannock said Eutelsat should reconsider its position, adding that more than 50 members of the European Parliament had signed a petition supporting NTDTV's action.

"In my view Eutelsat must allow NTDTV to carry on broadcasting otherwise it would send all the wrong signals to Beijing that we in the EU do not care how China treats its own people," he said.

NTDTV, whose volunteers workers including "some" supporters of the Falung Gong movement according to Zhao, broadcasts to over 200 million people around the world.

The Eutelsat spokeswoman noted that, while the contract with LSE was ending, its satellite network still broadcast NTDTV programs in Europe for example.

Paris-based media lobby group Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) said it also backs the broadcaster's legal action. "Broadcasting in China is cruelly lacking in diversity," said RSF head Robert Menard.

"It is regrettable that European companies are yielding to pressure from the Chinese government and that, in this questionable fashion, they are putting an end to broadcasts of a TV station that has the merit of offering alternative news to a Chinese audience, especially in the People's Republic of China."