How did France’s satellite champion become Putin’s mouthpiece?


Eutelsat–Detlev van Ravenswee/Science Photo Library

Ukraine has threatened to ban French satellite operator Eutelsat over claims it has broadcast Russian “war propaganda” to millions of homes across Europe.

Ukraine’s National Radio and Television Council warned Eutelsat on Thursday that it would block its services if it continued to work with Russian TV channels.

Soon to be partly owned by the British taxpayer, Eutelsat carries Russian satellite TV packages from NTV+ and Tricolor, both of which have been accused of broadcasting pro-Kremlin news.

Eutelsat’s own website claims the satellite signal reaches 15 million Russian homes, while 6.7 percent of its revenue, about €76 million, comes from Russian TV.

These TV channels carried statements by Russian news presenters and politicians calling for mass murder of Ukrainians. Duma member Alexei Zhuravlev said in a broadcast that 5 pc. of Ukraine is “incurable” and called for two million to be “rejected, which means destroyed”.

In another show on Rossiya 1, pro-Kremlin firebrand Vladimir Solovyov compared the war in Ukraine to killing a cat. Other broadcasts have called for nuclear strikes against the West, including Britain.

On a Rossiya 1 show in April, panelist Dmitry Kiselyov warned that Russia’s new submarine missiles could “sink the British Isles into the depths of the ocean.” At the same time, Eutelsat has blocked the broadcast of some western channels such as the BBC in Russia.

Vladimir Solovyov – SIPA US / Alamy Stock photo

The letter, presumably handed to Eutelsat chief Eva Bernke personally by an employee of the Ukrainian embassy, ​​threatens to sour relations between Paris and Kiev.

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“We will be forced to stop all its activities on the territory of Ukraine,” Ohla Herasmyuk, chairman of the broadcasting regulator, warned in the letter.

The letter says that Eutelsat is accused of broadcasting Russian TV channels that “systematically support the aggressive actions of the Russian government in Ukraine”, including attempts to “incite genocide against the Ukrainian people”. are also included.

A spokesman for Eutelsat declined to comment.

The €1.9 billion satellite operator has faced repeated demands from French campaigners to “stop the bloodshed”, including protests outside its headquarters and demands from lawmakers and top European legislators to remove the channels.

Founded in 1977, it operates a network of TV and communications satellites orbiting thousands of miles above the Earth. These beam satellite tv packages are available throughout Europe and Africa. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Eutelsat expanded into Eastern Europe, providing broadcasting services and pay TV channels to Russia.

The company follows what the CEO has described as a policy of “neutrality”.

It has claimed that the TV packages it distributes across Russia are mainly children’s TV and sports. It has previously taken measures to block some TV broadcasts, such as banning RT and removing Russian TV channel MIR due to sanctions and demands from regulators. The company says it has always followed all restrictions regarding the channels it broadcasts.

Eutelsat has previously been accused of shutting down channels critical of the Kremlin.

In 2010, after the war in South Ossetia between Russia and Georgia, it stopped broadcasting Kanal PIK, a pro-Georgian channel, and replaced its broadcasts with Russian TV packages.

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Eutelsat denied that the decision was due to pressure from Moscow and won a court case rejecting Kanal PIK’s claims.

But the decision to continue broadcasting to two major Russian customers during the war in Ukraine has put the French satellite company under new pressure.

Ukrainian Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko wrote this week in Le Monde: “Even the unprecedented sanctions imposed in 2022 have not ended their cooperation with the Russians. This powerful satellite operator continues to broadcast Russian propaganda channels.”

Macron – Brother

Last week, 39 MEPs wrote to the European Commission urging it to take action to block Eutelsat’s broadcasts. He added: “Eutelsat…is contributing to fueling the Russian public’s support for Putin’s war and preventing them from accessing independent news sources.”

André Lange, a French academic who campaigned to stop Eutelsat broadcasting in Russia, said: “Is it normal for a French company in which the French state is a major shareholder and regulator to continue operating radio and TV channels of a terrorist state? to broadcast?” Is ?”

The dispute also threatens to involve the UK government and UK state-backed satellite operator OneWeb.

OneWeb, which was bailed out of bankruptcy by Boris Johnson in a $1 billion deal in 2020, is about to merge with Eutelsat. As part of the deal, both the British government and the French state would remain shareholders in the combined company and sit on its board of directors. The agreement reportedly required the personal signature of French President Emmanuel Macron.

Until now, the government has remained silent about Eutelsat’s Russian affairs.

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Eutelsat continued to operate in Russia despite the Kremlin freezing OneWeb satellites in April and banning its CEO from the country. A spokeswoman for OneWeb declined to comment.

If the merger goes ahead, it could lead to a situation where a company partly owned by the British government is sanctioned by Ukraine, despite the fact that Britain is apparently closest to Kiev in its fight against Russia. One of the supporters.

The letter from the Ukrainian regulators does not mention OneWeb, but says: “If the company Eutelsat fails to manage or stop the retransmission services…we will be forced to initiate sanctions procedures.” Will be”.

MPs have been personally critical of the deal and Eutelsat’s commitment to its Russian activities will only fuel concerns. A Conservative MP said: “This merger was decided when we had no prime minister by a limited number of officials who did not mind losing a precious global spectrum asset to France.

“Perhaps Ukraine’s concerns should also have been taken into account in expediting this deal.”

Another Conservative MP called the deal a “colossal mistake”. “The French must laugh,” he said.




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