Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

International Media Accuse China Of Bullying Satellite Company

Dow Jones International News - 16 March 2005

International media watchdogs are accusing leading satellite operator Eutelsat (ETL.YY) of bowing to pressure from Beijing by refusing to renew a contract that allows a U.S.-based Chinese television company to broadcast into China.

Lawyers for the U.S.-based New Tang Dynasty Television and Reporters Without Borders planned to file a lawsuit against Eutelsat in a Paris court Wednesday.

"The inexplicable decision to suddenly end the contract of an independent broadcaster in this way appears to be a shocking act of censorship," Aidan White, general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, said Tuesday.

Reporters Without Borders said Eutelsat was violating European and international conventions by terminating the contract of New Tang Dynasty Television, which it called "the only non-governmental channel freely reaching Chinese viewers via satellite in the Chinese language."

"We opened a historic open satellite window in the great wall of information control that is forcibly maintained by Beijing," NTDTV board director Joe Zhao told a news conference. "Eutelsat is preparing to slam shut the open satellite window this week."

Zhao said NTDTV would use the Internet and other unspecified alternative methods to get its broadcasts into China if Eutelsat removes the satellite signal. He estimated the channel's global audience at 200 million.

From its Paris headquarters, Eutelsat said it had honored its contract with a London-based company through which it dealt with NTDTV and said its decisions were based on commercial grounds.

"Eutelsat is not reacting to pressure from the Chinese authorities or any other authority," the company said in a statement.

Chinese authorities have denounced New York-based NTDTV as a mouthpiece for the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which Beijing has tried to shut down as a dangerous cult. The TV station insists it is independent, although many of its staffers are Falun Gong practitioners.

The IFJ said New Tang Dynasty had an international reputation for "objective and timely reporting of political, economic and cultural stories" since its founding in 2001.

It said China's Communist Party pressured Eutelsat over the arrangements with NTDTV. The media watchdog said Beijing had warned that business opportunities linked to broadcasting 2008 Olympics would might be at risk.

"The fact that they may be using the Olympic Games contracts is particularly disgraceful," said Charles Tannock, a U.K. Conservative member of the European Parliament.

Tannock is one of over 50 European politicians from left and right who backed New Tang Dynasty's cause in a letter to Eutelsat CEO Giuliano Berretta.

He said the case was a timely reminder of Beijing's human rights policies as the European Union considers lifting an arms embargo on China.

Based in Brussels, the IFJ is an umbrella group that brings together journalists' unions in over 100 nations. It claims to represent more than 500,000 media professionals. Reporters Without Borders is a Paris-based media rights watchdog.