A high court in Paris, the TGI, dismissed a case brought by Chinese-language New Tang Dynasty Television (NTDTV) appealing against the ending of its contract by satellite provider Eutelsat. Lawyer for the station said he was determined to fight on. At the 16 March hearing, the lawyer for Eutelstat, Jean-Michel Leprêtre, denied there had been any pressure from the Chinese government, saying that the ending of NDTV broadcasts was down to financial concerns. The NTDTV lawyer presented the judge with a copy of a letter to Eutelsat from the Chinese authorities demanding a halt to the station’s programmes.
Separately, the judge agreed to Reporters Without Borders’ request to be a party to the NTDTV case.
Reporters Without Borders today condemned the decision of European satellite operator Eutelsat not to renew the contract under which independent, Chinese-language broadcaster New Tang Dynasty TV (NTDTV) uses Eutelsat satellites to broadcast to Asia and China.
The press freedom organization called on Eutelsat to allow NTDTV to continue using its satellites, pointing out that the New York-based TV network, which is run by overseas Chinese, had not broken any laws.
"Broadcasting in China is cruelly lacking in diversity," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said. "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 the 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."
Reporters Without Borders pointed out that the Paris-based Eutelsat is bound to respect the principles of equal access, diversity and non-discrimination under article 3 of the convention governing a company of this kind. Ménard made this point in a letter on 2 February to the head of Eutelsat, Guiliano Berreta, who did not reply.
At 3 p.m. on 16 March, a high-level court in Paris will hear the lawsuit brought by French lawyers acting for UCN, the company that produces and broadcasts NTDTV, against Eutelsat and the satellite capacity broker London Satellite Exchange (LSE). Reporters Without Borders’ lawyer will appear before the court to support the lawsuit in the interests of diversity in news and information, in this case, news programmes broadcast by satellite.
A Reporters Without Borders representative will also take part in the news conference which NTDTV plans to hold at 2 p.m. on 15 March at the International Press Centre in Brussels.
NTDTV accuses Eutelsat and LSE of refusing to let it renew its contract to use Eutelsat’s W5 satellite. To Reporters Without Borders’ knowledge, NTDTV has always respected the conditions of the licence it was granted in March 2004 by the French Higher Council for Broadcasting. There is no legal action or prosecution pending against NTDTV, as there was in the case of the Lebanese TV station Al-Manar.
LSE told NTDTV on 20 December that its use of Eutelsat satellites would end on 21 March although the contract it signed in March 2004 stipulates that the agreement would be renewed automatically for a year. Eutelsat denies playing any role in this decision but Reporters Without Borders is aware of a Chinese government instruction to Eutelsat in May 2004 demanding it to "put an end to this broadcasting immediately."
The Chinese information ministry has said that the broadcasting of NTDTV’s programmes "is not authorized in our country" and that "their content violates the laws of the People’s Republic of China."
The Beijing government accuses NTDTV of belonging to the banned Falun Gong movement, which it calls a "diabolic sect." Members of the movement are severely repressed in China. Many of the TV network’s employees are indeed Falun Gong practitioners, but it offers a wide range of programming, including programmes presented by pro-democracy dissidents and news programmes that are very different from the propaganda on China’s state-owned television network, CCTV.
CCTV is available in more than 30 satellite multichannel packages although six would suffice to reach 99 per cent of the world’s population. This massive presence enables the Chinese government to blackmail satellite operators.
NTDTV’s contract with satellite operator New Skies Satellites (NSS) for Asia transmission ended on 1st May 2004. 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.
In February 2003, it was the Atlanta-based US operator ADTH that broke an agreement in principle to carry NTDTV for fear of losing contracts with other Chinese channels.
NTDTV, which says it is now accessible to 200 million viewers around the world, recently won the support of 49 Euro MPs and politicians from European countries who wrote to the head of Eutelsat asking him to "maintain our joint commitment to fundamental European values and agreements, so that this ’open satellite window’ continues to grow wider."