President Saakashvili said in a statement on February 2, that taking Georgia’s Russian-language First Caucasian Channel off the satellite, owned by Paris-based Eutelsat, was “a very dangerous precedent of international political censorship.”
“We hope that the government, politicians and media in the country, which is democracy’s homeland, will help this channel to restore broadcasting [on satellite],” the statement, read out by President’s spokesperson, Manana Manjgaladze, says.
The Georgian Public Broadcaster said that that Eutelsat decision to retract its initial offer to host First Caucasian on its new W7 satellite operating at the 36 degrees East - a key location for broadcasting in Russia and other CIS states, as well as in Europe - was related with “lucrative offer” from Russia’s Gazprom Media Group, which owns Russia's largest Pay-TV provider NTV-Plus.
On January 15, the day when First Caucasian launched satellite broadcasting, Eutelsat made public its agreement with Moscow-based Intersputnik according to which the latter was leasing 16 transponders on Eutelsat’s W7 satellite to provide new resources for NTV-Plus.
“Free opinion was at first blocked within Russia; then Gazprom managed to impose control on many media sources in the west and attempted to create there parallel reality. And now an alternative opinion is being blocked beyond Russia to allow Gazprom to sell its parallel reality as the only truth,” the Georgian President’s spokesperson said.
“Such precedent of capitulation before Gazprom is dangerous first of all for the European democracies,” Manjgaladze said.
”It is pretty much the same thing as if Georgia had cut off BBC or CNN or any French channel by political motives.”
She said that Russian TV channels are broadcasted in Georgia through western satellites.
Russian television stations, which carry news, went off air in Georgia on August 8, 2008 after an apparent government instruction to the local cable networks to do so. These Russian stations, however, are still available for those views, which have satellite dishes.
Eutelsat, the Europe’s leading satellite operator, has denied politics behind its decision and said the First Caucasian could resume satellite broadcasting as soon as the contract was signed.
“From our perspective there should be no reason why we should not conclude a contract with them," AFP news agency reported quoting Eutelsat spokesperson Vanessa O'Connor.
Gia Chanturia, head of the Georgian Public Broadcaster, however, said that the operator offered new conditions in the contract, which were “totally unacceptable for us.”
Eutelsat was reportedly offering the GPB location on satellite other than the one First Caucasian Channel held since January 15. But the offer was rejected as other locations, according GPB officials, was not properly covering the geographical area it was interested in.