Authorities in Beijing have been harassing New York-based television channel New Tang Dynasty TV (NTDTV) since its launch in February 2002 as the China ensures it maintains its grip on Chinese-language electronic media.
NTDTV’s contract with satellite operator New Skies Satellites (NSS) for Asia transmission recently ended after prolonged financial and political pressure from Beijing. NTDTV has now resumed broadcasting to China and Asia via Eutelsat’s W-5 satellite covering Asia.
China has showed itself ready to use the most reprehensible methods to protect its monopoly, including threats, political and financial pressure and blackmail.
Regrettably some Western telecommunication companies cave in to Chinese pressure and suspend broadcasts of channels that challenge the Chinese communist party monopoly of the airwaves.
Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) fears that Beijing will keep up the pressure, particularly against Eutelsat, the French broadcast regulatory agency (CSA) and the French government, following resumption of NTDTV broadcasts to China and the recent inauguration of the channel on the Hotbird satellite to Europe and the Middle East.
Netherlands-based satellite operator NSS had begun broadcasting the channel on open signal to Asia on 1st July 2003. But just three days after the start of broadcasts, NSS encrypted the signal preventing Chinese satellite dish owners from seeing the channel.
The decision was taken following threats of financial reprisals against the company made to NSS representatives in Beijing. In January 2004, pressure was intensified to ensure that NTDTV was completely excluded from NSS-6 Asia satellite transmission. NTDTV management many times requested NSS to restore the open signal broadcast but this was refused, and on 1st May 2004 the NTDTV transmission to Asia ended.
Beijing accuses NTDTV of belonging to the banned Falungong movement, which it considers a "diabolical cult". Many of the channel’s volunteers are indeed followers of Falungong, but NTDTV offers a range of programmes, in particular news programmes that provide a sharp contrast with the propaganda on state television CCTV.
NTDTV told Reporters Without Borders that other companies had refused to broadcast or host the channel on their satellites for fear of Chinese reprisals. At the start of 2004, Philippines satellite operator Mabuhay cancelled plans to transmit a special Chinese New Year broadcast after threats from the Chinese ambassador in Manila. PanAmSat, which carries the Chinese state broadcaster CCTV on many of its satellite platforms worldwide, has also refused to broadcast NTDTV.
Through CCTV, Beijing broadcasts on 30 different satellite platforms worldwide, while six is enough to ensure coverage of 99% of the world’s population.
This massive presence allows the government to blackmail operators. In 2002, CCTV left the operator Taipei International because it decided to accept NTDTV. The state channel signed a new contract after the removal of NTDTV. In February 2003, the US operator Atlanta ADTH went back on an agreement in principle to carry NTDTV, for fear of losing contracts with Chinese channels.
Since 1st May 2004, NTDTV is once again accessible to satellite dish owners in China thanks to transmission on the W-5 satellite by the Paris-based Eutelsat.
NTDTV is now freely accessible to more than 200 million satellite viewers worldwide. The channel was approved in April by the French Superior Audiovisual Council (CSA). Reporters without borders fears that the CSA and the French government are coming under official pressure from China for this licensing decision.
Moreover, Eutelsat is legally obliged to comply with the principle of equality of access, pluralism and non-discrimination set out under Article 3 of the Convention that regulates this company under French law.
In addition to leaning on telecommunication operators, the Chinese authorities have several times prevented NTDTV journalists from working. Its reporters have been refused access to public events and press conferences in the United States and Europe under pressure from Chinese officials.