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Media watchdogs criticize Eutelsat
Paul Ames, Associated Press Writer

BRUSSELS, Belgium - International media watchdogs on Tuesday accused leading satellite operator Eutelsat 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.

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

Lawyers for the New Tang Dynasty Television and Reporters Without Borders have said they plan to bring a lawsuit in a Paris court Wednesday against Eutelsat.

"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 it 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.

New York-based NTDTV has been denounced by Chinese authorities as a mouthpiece for the Falun Gong (news - web sites) 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 gained an international reputation for "objective and timely reporting of political, economic and cultural stories" since its founding in 2001.

It said Eutelsat had been under pressure from the Chinese Communist Party 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.

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.

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