New Tang Dynasty TV (NTDTV) may not be well known in the United States and
Europe, but as a satellite TV programming service in China it has certainly
made a big splash, although it has been off the air completely since mid-2008.
NTDTV describes itself as the only independent Chinese-language satellite
television service to broadcast into China over the past five years.
One look at NTDTV's website - and you
can see immediately why it’s not very popular with the Chinese government. On
February 12, for example, this headline appeared: "Falungong practitioner Zhu
Luoxin persecuted in China.” No satellite TV network willing
to make such a proclamation is likely to receive a very warm reception in
"Over the past seven years, many Falungong practitioners together with many
others from various religious, social and political backgrounds have provided
the professionalism and talent that NTDTV needs to serve Chinese communities
worldwide, and they have contributed greatly to the success of NTDTV," said the
network’s New York City-based senior vice president, Samuel Zhou. 
Given the Falungong connection, it is easy to see why China wanted NTDTV off
the air - the sooner the better - and China's prayers were answered in
mid-2008, due to an alleged power failure onboard the satellite in question.
But questions remain, signaling this might not have been just a coincidence
Zhou has been engaged in a struggle with China for a very long time. In
mid-2005, for example, he testified before the US Congress at a hearing on the
Falungong and "China's continuing war on human rights".
"As a powerful example of this support for American values, since its inception
NTDTV has become the exclusive channel for democratically elected officials in
the United States to speak directly to Chinese people worldwide in their own
language," Zhou told the House Committee on International Relations.
"In spring 2004, NTDTV created the historic first 'open satellite window' of
uncensored information to mainland China by starting unencrypted direct-to-
home satellite broadcasting to Asia via the [Paris-based European
Telecommunications Satellite Organization or Eutelsat] W5 satellite, reachable
by tens of millions of private satellite dishes across China.
"However, these achievements have also and necessarily become a threat to the
Chinese communist government's grip on power. Thus, over the past few years, in
response to the challenges posed by NTDTV and other free Chinese-language
media, the Chinese communist government has launched an aggressive and
relentless campaign to silence such independent voices," Zhou added. "As a
result, people have seen a steady increase in interference, pressure and
harassment against NTDTV and other free media by the Chinese communist
government and its agents."
In 2009, NTDTV continues to describe itself as the object of a concerted and
longstanding campaign by Beijing to keep it off the air in China at all costs,
and this includes, NTDTV alleges, a successful effort by the government to
terminate the broadcast of the NTDTV feed on the W5 satellite. Eutelsat
absolutely denies this claim and rejects entirely this attempt by NTDTV to
portray it as cooperating with the Chinese government in any way. Eutelsat has
contended for months that NTDTV was simply displaced as a result of a technical
malfunction which adversely impacted the Asia beam on the W5 satellite.
"Other clients were affected by the W5 incident. They were either accommodated
on alternative Eutelsat capacity, but not with equivalent coverage as W5 is the
only satellite of our fleet with partial coverage of Asia, or they concentrated
their service over Asia on satellites operated by other companies. This is the
case for Euronews, for example," said Eutelsat spokeswoman Vanessa O'Connor.
Zhou strongly disagrees with this statement.
"On the client side, the only party that is really affected by Eutelsat's
shutdown is NTDTV. Euronews was on the same [satellite] transponder as NTDTV
before the shutdown, but it had decided to leave before the shutdown," he said.
Euronews did not respond to e-mails from Asia Times Online.
When this situation was brought to the attention of the European Parliament
(EP) in Strasbourg, 477 members signed a written declaration in support of
NTDTV in January. According to Zhou, this is the first time the EP has adopted
a written declaration on a freedom and human rights issue in China.
It states: "Declaration of the European Parliament on restoring NTDTV
Television broadcasts to China via Eutelsat, the European Parliament,
Having regard to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union,
signed and proclaimed on 7 December 2000, which defends the freedom and
pluralism of the media,
Having regard to Rule 116 of its Rules of Procedure,
A. Whereas the European Union is based on and defined by its adherence to the
principles of freedom, democracy and respect for human rights, fundamental
freedoms and the rule of law,
B. Whereas freedom of speech, particularly that of the media, including the
Internet, is heavily restricted in China,
C. Whereas NTDTV is a non-profit-making television broadcaster and is the only
independent Chinese-language television station to broadcast into China since
D. Whereas Eutelsat suspended NTDTV's broadcasts into China as of 16 June2008,
a few weeks before the Olympic Games, citing technical reasons, and provided no
1. Urges Eutelsat to resume NTDTV transmission to China without delay and to
provide reasons for its suspension;
2. Calls on the Commission and Member States to take the necessary action to
help restore NTDTV's broadcasts to China and to support access to uncensored
information for millions of Chinese citizens;
3. Instructs its President to forward this declaration, together with the names
of the signatories, to the Council, the Commission and the Member States. 
This move by the EP was preceded last October by a letter to Eutelsat's CEO
signed by 68 members of the US House of Representatives urging Eutelsat to
restore NTDTV's satellite TV signal to China. (The US government relies heavily
on Eutelsat and its W6 satellite to provide US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan
with vital satellite services.)
Under mounting pressure, Eutelsat issued an official statement in mid-January
in which it reaffirmed the "irreversible and purely technical nature of the
incident resulting in the interruption of its consumer broadcasting service
through its W5 satellite”.
"Following the technical investigation conducted with the satellite's
manufacturer, Thales Alenia Space, Eutelsat confirmed unambiguously the
irreversible loss of one of W5's solar panels. As a consequence of this
technical breakdown, all broadcasting services routed via the beam providing
coverage of Southeast Asia are permanently switched-off," declared Eutelsat.
"This measure was taken as consumer broadcasting services to small on-ground
antennas consume significantly more power than professional services. W5 is now
consequently exclusively used for professional services over Europe and the
There are two other large satellite operators - Bermuda-based Intelsat and
Luxembourg-based SES Global - along with a few smaller regional satellite
operators that cover Asia.
Besides responding to requests from the EP for detailed information on the
situation, Eutelsat met with representatives of the European Commission last
"Eutelsat also reaffirmed on this occasion that on no account was there any
discrimination against NTDTV, which the company continues to broadcast across
Europe via its key HOT BIRD video neighborhood," Eutelsat stated. "With due
regard to Article III of the International Convention establishing [Eutelsat],
Eutelsat's policy is to broadcast all types of television service, refraining
from any judgment as to the ideological and political positioning of the
channels whilst conforming with all relevant national regulations and
Eutelsat has experienced other instances when it had to comply with orders from
government agencies – in France in particular - to cease transmitting content
via its satellites which these agencies deemed unacceptable. In 2004, for
example, the French Council of State ruled that Eutelsat would be hit with a
US$6,600 daily fine if it did not stop offering Hezbollah TV - through the
Lebanese-based al-Manar satellite channel - in 48 hours. At the time, Eutelsat
was broadcasting al-Manar throughout Europe as part of a programming bundle
provided by Saudi Arabia-based Arabsat.
And in early 2009 while under contract with Bahrain-based Noorsat, Eutelsat was
compelled by the French TV regulator CSA to shut down the satellite feed
carrying Hamas-backed al-Aqsa TV less than 24 hours after it had appeared on
Eutelsat's Eurobird 2, Eurobird 9 and Atlantic Bird 4 satellites. Eutelsat had
apparently been warned by CSA in December that this action might be taken.
Eutelsat's position here is unwavering and yet NTDTV persists in its efforts to
regain entry into the Chinese satellite TV arena.
"NTDTV continues to have strong support in the US and Canada [where] Eutelsat's
shutdown of NTDTV has provoked a very strong protest in North America," said
Zhou. "Now, there is a complete change of political personnel in Washington and
the transition takes some time. We will be taking up this issue with the new
people when they are confirmed and in place."
As for any adverse effect on NTDTV's overall financial situation, Zhou reports
that because NTDTV lost a large audience in Asia, this consequently has
impacted its advertising revenue. However, advertising dollars or not, NTDTV is
determined to press on.
"By calling on Eutelsat to restore NTDTV's service, the European Parliament is
not accepting Eutelsat's assertions that the shutdown is for technical
reasons," said Zhou, who pointed to mounting evidence of China's direct
involvement. "Reporters without Borders has issued protests and investigative
reports challenging Eutelsat's assertions, and other non-governmental
organizations have taken similar positions."
Attempts by Asia Times Online to reach a number of French politicians and
members of the French Parliament including Marc Le Fur, Jack Lang, Francoise
Hostalier, Jacqueline Fraysse and even France diplomatic and human rights
secretary, Rama Yade, were unsuccessful.
One other important aspect of this satellite story involves allegations from
China's Ministry of Information Industry (MII) that the Falungong disrupted or
"jammed" satellite TV services beamed across China via the country’s sinosat 1
satellite on multiple occasions earlier this decade. Among other things, the
MII blamed the Falungong in October 2003 for blocking nationwide TV coverage of
China's first manned space flight. These jamming signals originated in Taiwan,
according to the MII.
As a result of this intense and frequent jamming, China made a decision five
years ago to build its first so-called "jamproof " satellite named Sinosat 2,
and this satellite was lost shortly after it was launched in 2006.
The US has indicated that as Secretary of State Clinton prepares to visit China
for the first time, the issue of human rights in China will once again be an
important item on the agenda. Satellites and who controls them are seldom
mentioned when there are discussions about human rights and individual
freedoms. At a time when even President Barack Obama's inaugural address can be
subjected to censorship in China, NTDTV reminds everyone that satellite TV
services are worth fighting for.
1. For more on the relationship between NTDTV and the Falungong, click
here. 2. See
Peter J Brown is a satellite journalist from Maine USA.