French satellite company Eutelsat's refusal to renew its contract with NTDTV has attracted the attention of many members of the U.S. Congress. Last week, a "Dear Colleague" letter was drafted which calls upon President Bush to address this issue with Eutelsat and urge them to reconsider their decision. The letter was circulated in the House of Representatives between last Thursday and this Tuesday. During four short business days, 93 House members co-signed the letter, including the Chairman of the International Relations Committee, Henry Hyde, the Vice Chairman of the committee, Christopher Smith, and the ranking member, Tom Lantos.
The letter was also copied to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley.
The text of the letter is reproduced here:
April 11th, 2005
The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
Many Members of Congress warmly welcomed the launch of the first uncensored satellite TV broadcasting to China and East Asia last May. The pioneering US-based channel, New Tang Dynasty TV (NTDTV), is the only truly independent Chinese-language TV reaching tens of millions of private satellite dishes across China. NTDTV broadcasts include news, information and cultural content that helps promote democracy and freedom.
Eutelsat, the Paris-based satellite company that transmits NTDTV over Asia, has recently reached a "historic partnership agreement" with the same Chinese Ministry that demanded Eutelsat stop broadcasting NTDTV. Eutelsat has notified NTDTV that, as of April 15th, it will no longer carry NTDTV's channel in Asia.
We understand that when the Chinese and French Governments strongly pressured Eutelsat last spring to stop broadcasting NTDTV, only counter-pressure from the US Government - Eutelsat's top customer - succeeded in keeping the channel on air. Eutelsat is the largest supplier of satellite services to the US Government, enjoying over 40% of our total contracts. The company operates under specific European and international agreements guaranteeing non-discrimination, equal access, and respect for pluralism.
Eutelsat had also promised to expand this "open satellite window" to welcome the Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, and other democracy and religious channels to broadcast on its Asia satellite. This step is vital to open up China, Burma, Vietnam and other closed media markets. Instead of proceeding on this path, however, Eutelsat is now defending Beijing's formal demand for control over all content transmitted onto Chinese territory. Eutelsat's rejection of international content standards is dangerous for the global free flow of information and opens the door for repressive regimes around the world to stop whatever satellite broadcasts they oppose.
If NTDTV is silenced, it will enable one of the world's worst violators of media freedom and human rights to re-establish full censorship over the broadcast information available to its citizens. In light of our nation's pre-eminent role in promoting transparency, openness and freedom overseas, the silencing of NTDTV's broadcast to China is an unacceptable outcome.
We respectfully request that you address this issue with Eutelsat and urge them to reconsider their decision to deny service to NTDTV. While the US government currently has a strong relationship with Eutelsat, we see no reason in the future that U.S. taxpayers should fund satellite companies that discriminate in favor of repressive regimes and against free media.
Thank you for considering our request. We hope you will ensure that free TV is not shut down for millions of viewers in China.
The Honorable Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State
The Honorable Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
The Honorable Stephen Hadley, National Security Advisor
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