We all know there is no love lost between Georgia and Russia.
Remember that little war in 2008?
Oh, and remember that this same war was seen as the first cyber-war?
Now, we have accusations of Russian pressure to censor news from Georgia. (See below for a list of related articles.)
Georgian Public Broadcast had its new Russian-language channel, First Caucasian, carried on Eutelsat for the last half of January.
And here is where it gets interesting. The Georgians say the channel was dropped because of pressure from Moscow. The satellite company says the two-week run was just a trial.
The French newspaper Le Figaro, cited an unnamed French diplomat in Tbilisi who said the “Kremlin is putting strong pressure on the Eutelsat to compel it to annul the contract with Georgia”.
Representatives of Eutelsat told the newspaper the transmission was terminated due to the expiration of the trial period.
The line the Georgians are taking is that Russia wants to make sure that it controls the Russian-language news.
According to the Georgians, Eutelsat, stopped transmitting the channel only after it signed a “lucrative contract” with the Russian satellite company Intersputnik.
Then, say the Georgians, the Gazprom Media Group, a subsidiary of Russia’s state-run natural gas monopoly, bought most of space on the Intersputnik satellite. They say the remaining space on the Intersputnik satellite that Eutelsat is offering First Caucasian is not enough to provide reliable coverage for the region.
First Caucasian told the AFP that Eutelsat’s move “leaves Intersputnik and Gazprom Media Group — both of which adhere to the Kremlin’s editorial line — with a de facto satellite transmission monopoly over Russian-language audience.”
This is not the first time the Paris-based Eutelsat was accused of caving in to pressure. In 2008 Chinese authorities asked it to suspend the use of one of its satellites for an independent Chinese-language broadcaster.
The founders of First Caucasian Channel said their main goal was “to bring truth to peoples in North Caucasus – to Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan as well as to Russian republics in the Caucasus that fight against the Kremlin’s armed forces “.
The only other Russian language broadcasts in the area are from the Russian government and, say the Georgians, biased toward Moscow.
The issue escalated from a business dispute to a major war of words this week when the Georgian president. Mikheil Saakashvili, in a written statement, said:
“At first free speech was blocked in Russia, then Gazprom managed to take control of various western media sources. Now Russia tries to block free speech outside Russia.”
The president expressed his support of the journalists at the channel. He assured them that they will continue to have editorial independence as they operate.
Media reports have the GPB leadership in Europe talking to Eutelsat and possibly other providers to get First Caucasian Channel back on the air.
Reports on the situation:
- KavKazCenter.com: SCANDAL. French stopped retransmission of the First Caucasian TV Channel
- Radio Free Europe: Georgia Satellite Channel Claims Kremlin Pressure Took It Off The Air
- News.AZ: Saakashvili terms cutoff of the “First Caucasian” channel as a dangerous preced
- Media.ge: Russian-Language First Caucasian Channel Preparing to Launch Broadcasts (November 2009)
- Media.ge: President Saakashvili Considers Taking First Caucasian Channel off the Satellite as Very Dangerous Precedent of International Political Censorship (February 2)
- Radio Netherlands: ‘First Caucasian’ satellite broadcast suspended
- Civil.ge: ‘First Caucasian’ Satellite Broadcast Suspended
Some Russia-Georgia Background:
- London Time: Georgia timeline: how crisis unfolded
- Counterterrorism Blog: Russia-Georgia CyberWar Assessment