Eutelsat S.A., a French company that transmits TV channels and radio stations by satellite, is acting as an intermediary of the Russian war propaganda apparatus, say Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Denis Diderot Committee. The French government, which owns 20% of Eutelsat, cannot allow this to continue.
According to the information gathered by RSF and the Denis Diderot Committee (a collective founded by two media experts in March that promotes the free flow of news and information), Eutelsat uses two satellites to transmit TV channels packaged by the Russian companies NTV+ and Trikolor to Russia. These two providers, the main sources of news and information for 25% to 30% of the Russian population, carry TV channels such as Rossiya 1, Perviy 1 and NTV that are the spearheads of the Russian war propaganda machine.
These TV channels constantly broadcast disinformation that, in effect, condones war crimes, incites violence and hatred, and legitimises the Russian army’s war of aggression in Ukraine. At the same time, NTV+ and Trikolor recently stopped carrying eight international TV news broadcasters – BBC World, CNN, Deutsche Welle, Euronews (in Russian), France 24, NHK World, RAINews 24 and TV5 Monde.
This contribution to Russian propaganda is very profitable for Eutelsat, for whom Russia is the second biggest client. Eutelsat’s Russian activities represented 6.3% of its turnover in 2020-2021 or 76 millions euros.
“Eutelsat cannot legitimately contribute to Kremlin propaganda by providing the means by which it is disseminated, and derive dividends from disinformation and censorship,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “The French authorities must put a stop to this situation. They have the means to act and must use them without delay.
Eutelsat is a French-registered company in which the French state – with its 20% stake via France’s Public Investment Bank (BPI) – is the biggest single shareholder. As one of Eutelsat’s owners, France is collaborating with the Russian war propaganda machine, with the provision of disinformation to the Russian public, and with Russia’s censorship of international news media.
“For the sake of the principle of neutrality vis-à-vis customer content, Eutelsat does not set itself up as a judge of programme quality or legality,” David Bertolotti, Eutelsat’s director of institutional and international relations, told RSF. “It is up to national regulators to issue injunctions, if appropriate. And if there are sanctions, we apply them. If we abandoned this position of complete neutrality with regard to content, we would at once be subjected to even more pressure from all sides without any grounds to resist, to the detriment of media freedom and pluralism.”
“The Denis Diderot Committee welcomes this position,” said André Lange, the committee’s coordinator. “The responsibility and honour of France, the leading shareholder in Eutelsat, are on the line as a result of this indefensible collaboration with the Russian war and genocide propaganda apparatus.”
The activities of Eutelsat S.A. are defined by the amended EUTELSAT IGO Convention, which took effect in 2002, in which 49 countries including France and Russia are participants, and which is deposited in France. Eutelsat is an international organisation based in France that oversees the activities of Eutelsat S.A., and it must adhere to the principles established in the Eutelsat Convention. These principles include, by reference to the European Convention on Transfrontier Television (ECTT), respect for freedom of expression and information, respect for human dignity, media pluralism and fair reporting, and a ban on incitement to violence or racial hatred in the broadcast media.
The TV channel packages that Eutelsat broadcasts to Russia do not satisfy these requirements. RSF therefore urges the French authorities to convene a meeting of the countries that are party to the Eutelsat convention in order to propose Russia’s exclusion for violating the obligation to respect the convention’s principles, the suspension of commercial relations with Russian broadcasters, and the allocation of the vacated satellite slots to independent media.
Ceasing to carry these Russian packages would free up space on Eutelsat’s satellites that could be assigned to international media that have been barred by Russia or to independent Russian media such as TV Rain, the exile TV channel that used to be called Dozhd TV.
RSF’s Deloire added: “We are not asking political authorities to ban Russian propaganda media, which is something that only independent administrative authorities could legitimately do. This is about getting Eutelsat to comply with an international convention that imposes respect for the right to freedom of expression and information. And it’s about contributing to the right to reliable, pluralist and independent information, and ensuring that France’s position is consistent. Eutelsat would be better off broadcasting independent Russian TV channels.
Culled from rsf.org