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Court to Hear GPB, Eutelsat Dispute in Two Weeks
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 9 Feb.'10 / 01:26

Paris court of commerce will launch hearing Georgian Public Broadcaster’s (GPB) case against Europe’s leading satellite operator Eutelsat on February 22, the French news agency, AFP, reported.

GPB claims that Eutelsat has not followed its commitment and took the public broadcaster’s Russian-language First Caucasian Channel off satellite after receiving “a lucrative” offer from Gazprom Media Group, which owns Russia's largest Pay-TV provider NTV-Plus, for the same spectrum GPB had contracted for. Georgia said it was an attempt of “political censorship.”

GPB brought an expedited proceeding (référé) against Eutelsat seeking to fine the Paris-based satellite operator with EUR 50,000 per day as an interim relief, pending trial on merits. But a judge said on February 8, that it was beyond his competence to rule on the interim relief and referred the case to be heard on merits to the court of commerce, AFP reported quoting GPB lawyer Benjamin Mock.

Eutelsat has strongly denied GPB’s allegations, including the one on coming under Russia’s pressure.

Eutelsat said on February 4 that “no contract has come into force between GPB and Eutelsat” and that the First Caucasian was broadcasting 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 and Africa – on trial basis for less than two weeks.

According to the operator company, in 2009 it was negotiating with several customers interested in the same capacity on W7 satellite and decided to allocate this capacity to Moscow-based Intersputnik, which leased 16 transponders on W7 for Gazprom Media Group’s NTV-Plus. Eutelsat said that it had received “a firm commitment” from Intersputnik “for significantly more capacity than that requested by the Georgian broadcaster.”

“Eutelsat accordingly 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 company said.

But GPB said that shifting from W7 to W2A satellite was “not acceptable”, citing that the newly offered location was not properly covering the geographical area it was interested in. GPB also said that W7 had an advantage over W2A of direct access to consumer satellite antennas already pointed at W7 to receive major Russian TV platforms.

Eutelsat, however, denied this clam by GPB and said that “the offer on W2A involves no additional constraint compared with the initial offer on W7.” It also said that both satellites had the same technical specifications, which would require Russian consumers to either change their equipment or add a second dish to receive Russian TV services from W7 satellite.

“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 said.

GPB’s First Caucasian is currently available on internet and it also goes out on cable in Tbilisi.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman, Bernard Valero, said on February 5, that Paris wanted Eutelsat and Georgia “to find common ground so that this project can develop."

25% of Eutelsat shares are owned by the French state investment fund.

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