7 December 2019

French satellite operator Eutelsat censors pro-democracy TV channel

KONFRONTASI -  Eutelsat has been accused of accommodating the Algerian military junta, after an opposition channel, “Al Magharibia”, was effectively cut off without prior notice. Al Magharibia is popular amongst Algerians for its comprehensive coverage of the ongoing pro-democracy protests, and broadcasts from France. The channel is often praised by pro-democracy demonstrators to the chants of “Al Magharibia is the channel of the people!” during the weekly protests.

According to the channel’s management, the network wasn’t provided a notice and was only told that the suspension is the result of a complaint lodged by the Algerian regime.

The complaint alleges that the U.K/France-based TV network is not authorised to broadcast in Algeria. However, various commentators have argued that the excuse is at best “laughable” since that would mean any given country can get any channel suspended.

French officials including Emmanuel Macron were pressured to have the channel suspended. A source at Matignon, the French prime minister’s office, confirmed to the Algiers Herald that the Algerian regime has been pressuring Emmanuel Macron to intervene.

Millions of Algerians have been demonstrating since the 22nd of February to demand a transition towards a democratic political system, however the army has rejected that possibility, fearing that corrupt military generals would be prosecuted in the event of a democratic transition.

The army has scheduled an election for the 12th of December, which is overwhelmingly rejected by the majority of Algerians who argue that an election organised by the current regime would only serve to appoint yet another puppet president who will work to preserve the military generals’ financial interests.

Eutelsat’s largest shareholder is the Banque Publique d’Investissement, a state-run investment bank. When approached, the satellite operator refused to comment. It remains unclear whether Eutelsat received financial incentives in exchange of complying with the Algerian regime’s directives.

Chinese and Kurdish precedents

In 2008, Reporters Without Borders had already denounced Eutelsat, stating “Eutelsat claims it was forced to suspend NTDTV (New Tang Dynasty Television) on 16 June because of a technical problem but a recorded conversation with an employee of Eutelsat show it was a premeditated, politically-motivated decision violating the free flow of information and the convention under which Eutelsat operates”.

In a recorded conversation on 23 June with an interlocutor the employee thought was a Chinese Propaganda Department official, a Eutelsat representative in Beijing said:

“It was our company’s CEO in France who decided to stop NTDTV’s signal. (…) We could have turned off any of the transponders. (…) It was because we got repeated complaints and reminder from the Chinese government. (…) Two years ago, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television kept saying the same thing over and over: Stop that TV station before we begin to talk”.

In 2016, it was the Turkish authorities who had pressured Eutelsat to suspend a Kurdish channel. The Paris commercial court later ordered Eutelsat to re-instate the Kurdish channel Newroz TV.

Another source at the Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the allegations made by the source at Matignon: senior regime officials pressured the French leadership to have the channel suspended until at least a new president is appointed by the army on the 12th of December.

Currently there are hundreds of political detainees in the country, including pro-democracy activists, students, journalists and political opponents.

Panicking, the army’s higher command has been targeting any discordant voice that could potentially compromise its roadmap.(Jft/AlgiersHerald)

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