— A tape-recorded conversation alleged to be between a Eutelsat representative in the company’s office and a Chinese dissident posing as a government propaganda official has been publicized by an international free-speech organization as an example of the extreme lengths some companies go to in search of Chinese business.
The transcript – translated from a conversation conducted in a Chinese dialect – was released by Reporters Without Borders, known by its French acronym, RSF, a not- for-profit organization concerned with free-speech issues.
In the conversation, the alleged Eutelsat representative complains that satellite-fleet operator Eutelsat has not won as much business as its competitor Intelsat despite Eutelsat’s multiple efforts to please the Chinese.
The latest effort to please the Chinese, the Eutelsat representative says, according to the transcript, is Eutelsat’s decision to remove New Tang Dynasty TV (NDTV) from Eutelsat’s W5 satellite using a recent power failure on the satellite as an excuse. The W5 satellite is in a geostationary orbit over
According to the transcript, the alleged Eutelsat representative also says Eutelsat has bent over backwards to curry favor with , with public and private efforts including:
– The possible launch of a future Eutelsat satellite aboard a Chinese rocket, which the Eutelsat representative said cost the company 20 million euros ($32 million) in extra manufacturing costs to assure the satellite carried no U.S. parts that would make it un-exportable to China.
– The offer of a joint venture with China, to be called Great Wall Platform, to develop a core orbital neighborhood for direct-broadcast television, with China being offered a free transponder on a Eutelsat satellite as part of the exchange. Eutelsat would invest in the venture and the two sides would divide the profit in return for landing rights for Eutelsat in
– The decision by Eutelsat to move China’s CCTV network to a more-central Eutelsat beam over Europe, where it would address a larger audience.
– A Eutelsat donation of cash to aid in ‘s post-earthquake recovery effort, a private initiative that Eutelsat had not publicized, and which the company says went to purchase tents for earthquake victims.
The NTDTV programming on board W5 was booked not directly with Eutelsat, but through RRSat Global Communications Network Ltd. of , which books capacity on multiple satellites on behalf of customers worldwide.
The alleged Eutelsat representative said that once the company became aware that NTDTV was on board W5, it felt trapped because any attempt to remove it could arouse a government protest.
The representative says Eutelsat began hoping the satellite would fail in orbit. Failing that, he said, Eutelsat’s office fantasized about using a missile to destroy the satellite.
“My boss kept on saying so: Just shoot it down directly,” the alleged Eutelsat representative says, referring to the fact that China used a missile to destroy one of its retired satellites in low Earth orbit in 2007. “This way, everyone will be at ease.” “After three years of efforts, Heaven has finally broken it,” the alleged representative says of the power failure, which Eutelsat announced June 17.
In return for Eutelsat’s multiple efforts to please , “all we want is a gesture” of support by way of new business, the alleged Eutelsat representative says.
The telephone conversation occurred June 23 and was initiated by a man identifying himself as “Wang” from a vaguely described “Central Propaganda Department.” He says, according to the transcript, that he is calling to check on the status of Eutelsat’s decision to remove based NTDTV from the W5 satellite following a partial power failure that forced Eutelsat to shut down four of the satellite’s transponders.
In separate interviews July 17, two members of Reporters Without Borders said “Wang” is in fact a Chinese dissident with whom RSF has worked in the past and whose credibility has been established.
�Vincent Brossel, head of RSF’s desk, conceded that the tactics that were used in this effort – surreptitious recording of a conversation, using a fake identity to elicit information – was not to RSF’s liking. “We thought long and hard before releasing this,” Brossel said. “We don’t like these methods, but in this specific case we thought the information surrounding NTDTV’s expulsion from the Eutelsat satellite was valuable enough to justify publishing it.”
Brossel said RSF translated the document and verified the identity of the Eutelsat representative on its own.
Eutelsat spokeswoman Vanessa O’Connor said in a July 17 interview that the company would not comment on the transcript’s authenticity, but denied that NTDTV was treated unfairly.
“The connection they make between a technical issue and a politically motivated choice” of which customers to remove from the satellite is “completely false,” O’Connor said. “It is a power-related issue on the satellite and we had to reduce the amount of customers on a spot beam that had a limited number of transponders. We also removed Euronews and Globecast and I don’t think anyone would accuse us of doing that for political reasons.”
Globecast and Euronews are both regular Eutelsat customers. Globecast’s service was moved to Eutelsat’s W3A satellite, which has a different footprint and does not cover the same region as W5. No replacement capacity on a Eutelsat satellite could be found for Euronews, which ultimately was transferred to the AsiaSat-2 satellite owned by AsiaSat of Hong Kong.
O’Connor said that, following standard practice, Euronews was obliged to contract its replacement capacity with AsiaSat on its own.
O’Connor also said Eutelsat has no policy barring NTDTV from its satellites.
Joe Wang, president of NTDTV Canada, said July 17.the network has had issues with Eutelsat in the past, when the Paris-based fleet operator tried to remove broadcasts from another satellite but was blocked following protests by European and Canadian legislators.
NTDTV is widely viewed as being closely allied with the Falun Gong movement, which is outlawed in but has established branches throughout the world and has been able to finance NTDTV. Wang said Falun Gong members are among the network’s financial backers, and some NTDTV employees are Falun Gong backers. But the network itself is not formally associated with Falun Gong.
Among satellite operators, Falun Gong has been an issue since Asian satellite operators including AsiaSat reported signal piracy over resulting in scheduled television programming being replaced by Falun Gong-favorable messages.
NTDTV’s Joe Wang said NTDTV does not support such tactics and was not involved in the signal piracy.