The pioneering independent Chinese New Tang Dynasty TV network (NTDTV) has received two extensions on its contract to broadcast into mainland China, delaying a scheduled shutdown of transmissions. Accuracy in Media previously released a special report detailing the travails of the network and Paris-based satellite operator Eutelsat corporation. After being pressured by state-owned ChinaSatCom, Eutelsat moved to end NTDTV’s broadcasts by refusing to renew their contract. NTDTV has repeatedly run afoul of China’s repressive media policy by broadcasting news programs and documentaries highly critical of the Chinese Communist Party. The network estimates some 2 million persons have rescinded their membership in the CCP and its affiliated organizations as a result of viewing a documentary series called “The Nine Commentaries.” The series was based on editorials produced by the independent newspaper The Epoch Times. The reported exodus from the CCP and the independent reporting of NTDTV has sparked a fierce reaction from the Chinese government no better exemplified than in the Eutelsat controversy.
The threatened shutdown was covered by the press internationally, with scores of politicians weighing in favor of NTDTV.
Eutelsat’s actions were condemned by Reporters Without Borders and the International Federation of Journalists, two major journalism organizations in Europe who called the move a gross violation of the company’s inter-governmental charter requiring Eutelsat to provide universal service, equal access, and respect for pluralism.
64 members of the European parliament signed a letter of support for NTDTV’s stance in the matter.
A letter of support for keeping NTDTV on the air to China was penned by Congressmen Christopher H. Smith and Tom Lantos, and was signed by 93 U.S. lawmakers.
Accuracy in Media’s special report was translated into Chinese and reproduced around the world by The Epoch Times-which has a total circulation of over 1 million-as well as being published on a number of Chinese websites. In addition AIM spoke out at the New York City Press Club in defense of NTDTV’s right to freedom of the press and of speech. An AIM press release followed calling on President Bush to take action.
85,000 American supporters of NTDTV sent a petition to President Bush.
Two weeks ago, Senator Brownback wrote a letter to President Bush, signed by 14 other Senators. The letter states that Eutelsat was seeking “unacceptable terms” that would give it legal control over future NTDTV broadcasts into Asia. Noting that the US has 40% of its satellite contracts with Eutelsat, Brownback wrote that, “The U.S. government should not allow Eutelsat to hold this pro-democracy channel under duress for Beijing any longer.” The letter also notes that the network was founded by “patriotic Chinese-Americans” in response to “viciously anti-American Chinese state propaganda after Sept. 11, 2001.” Reminding the President of the previous letter signed by 93 US lawmakers and which questioned allowing continued US taxpayer support of Eutelsat, Sen. Brownback called on the administration to take the historic opportunity of securing this “open satellite window” to Asia.
Over the Memorial Day weekend Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld signed a petition supporting the mass exodus from the CCP sparked by “The Nine Commentaries” and denouncing the arrest of those who have withdrawn.
The media coverage and involvement of politicians has bought some time for the network but the outcome of negotiations is still very uncertain. Those negotiations are said to be marred by “game-playing.” The shutdown was originally scheduled for April 15 then extended to May 22 as the two parties engaged in negotiations. The deadline was then extended to June 6 and now has been altered to June 13.
NTDTV Vice President Samuel Zhou told AIM “The negotiations have gone back and forth for a few rounds so far and still continue, some progress is being made but not enough to guarantee long-term transmission over Asia. NTD needs to retain its full rights to equal access with controls from third parties inside or outside the contract.”
Even as the three-year old network enjoys exponential growth-now reaching some 200 million households worldwide-it represents something of a paradox: it continues to thrive in the very context of continued persecution from the Chinese state. In the case of the Eutelsat controversy, AIM agrees with the Lantos letter: with taxpayers enriching Eutelsat by subsidizing its whopping hold of 40% of US government satellite operator contracts, the company needs to start listening to its biggest client. Thanks to the efforts of AIM, European media watchdog groups, democracy groups and international leaders, the opposition to muzzling NTDTV is becoming impossible for the Eutelsat to ignore.