The case was brought about by the Georgian Public Broadcaster GPB, who said that the satellite operator had stopped transmitting its Russian language channel First Caucasian (Pervyy Kavkazskiy). Eutelsat Communications has said “no contract has come into force”. GPB wants Eutelsat to resume broadcasting of its channel via its W7 satellite with a fine of €50,000 per day that it does not comply. The broadcaster is accusing Eutelsat of having placed itself “at the service of Russian censorship” by ceasing to relay its broadcasts via its W7 satellite after signing a big contract with Moscow.
In a statement, the Paris-based satellite operator made it clear it would not respond to political or ideological pressure of any kind in the conduct of its activity and operates according to commercial and business rationale, rebuffing accusations from the Georgians that Russia was behind the suspension. It said Eutelsat had signed “a lucrative contract” with Russian satellite company Intersputnik to provide broadcasts for a media unit of state-controlled Russian giant Gazprom, according to a BBC report.
The matter has echoes of claims by New Tang Dynasty Television (NTDTV) that Eutelsat had removed it from its satellites because its coverage was out of step with the views of the Chinese authorities. A Paris court has thrown out these claims.
In a statement, the satellite operator said that “in the course of its business, Eutelsat conducts negotiations with clients to ensure maximum use of its satellites. In advance of the entry into service of the W7 satellite [36 degrees East], Eutelsat confirms that negotiations were pursued in 2009 with several customers interested in the same capacity on this satellite, and that it has selected to allocate this capacity to a European telecommunications operator after receiving a firm commitment for significantly more capacity than that requested by the Georgian broadcaster.”
Eutelsat said that it informed GPB that the solution offered on W7 was no longer available, and that it could satisfy GPB’s requirements with another satellite in its the fleet, namely W2A. “The W2A satellite offers improved coverage of Georgia and western Russia than W7, as well as higher power, enabling smaller dishes of 80cm to be used in comparison to minimum one metre dishes required for W7.”
Eutelsat also “firmly refutes the allegation of GPB representatives, who claim that W7 offers the advantage of direct access to consumer satellite antennas already pointed at this satellite to receive major Russian TV platforms. Eutelsat specifies that Russian TV platforms are broadcast using capacity with circular polarisation, which requires consumer equipment which is not compatible with channels transmitted using linear polarisation generally deployed in the rest of Europe and Georgia. Consumers therefore need to acquire either one or both types of equipment, depending on the service they want to receive.”
Last September, Eutelsat announced the establishment of a single Georgaina DTH platform with Georgia’s two public channels: GPB TV and Adjara, as well as two private channels: Rustavi 2, and Imedi TV.on the W7 satellite at 36 degrees East (see Broadband TV News passim).
First Caucasian is the brainchild of President Mikhail Saakashvili’s Georgian administration, which intends to bring a Russian-language news channel as an alternative to Russia’s own media. The channel started streaming on the internet and with a pilot broadcast on Eutelsat W7. According to the BBC, the directors of Georgia’s public broadcaster flew to Paris thinking they would be putting the final ink on a contract they had been negotiating for some weeks.