Reporters Without Borders is concerned about French-based satellite operator Eutelsat’s decision to stop carrying Al Islah TV, the mouthpiece of a Saudi exile group, on Eutelsat’s Hotbird satellite on 22 July. The Saudi opposition group, called the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (MIRA), is based in the UK.
Al Islah TV’s signal had been the target of deliberate jamming ever since its launch in 2003. Other satellite TV station signals carried on the same Hotbird transponder also experienced interference. Eutelsat decided to terminate its contract with the MIRA without trying to establish the origin of the interference.
Saad Al-Faqih, who runs Al Islah TV, insists that the Saudi government is responsible for the jamming. “According to our information, Eutelsat was under a lot of pressure from the Saudi government,” he told Reporters Without Borders. “Instead of trying to identify the source of the jamming and bring a lawsuit against those responsible, the company took the easiest way out by giving into the blackmail and eliminating our station.”
Reporters Without Borders urges Eutelsat to clarify its position as regards Al Islah TV. “The claims being made by the Saudi opposition station are supported by the recent revelations about the pressure Eutelsat was getting from the Chinese authorities, which led it to drop the Chinese-language station NTDTV,” the press freedom organisation said.
“The rapprochement between Eutelsat and certain repressive governments is disturbing,” the organisation added. “After acting as the accomplice of the Chinese censors, we hope that Eutelsat will not now become the accomplice of the Saudi censors as well.”
Registered under the name of Persian TV, the broadcasts of Al Islah TV are carried by four other satellites as well as Hotbird. The recent interference only affected its Hotbird signal and its broadcasts are still available via the other satellites.
However, Faqih said dropping Al Islah TV from Hotbird was tantamount to closing it down as Saudi viewers all watch stations carried by Hotbird, Arabsat and Nilesat, and Al Islah TV is in effect barred from the latter two satellites. “The Saudi government owns more than 30 per cent of Arabsat while Nilesat belongs to the Egyptian government, which would never agree to host us, so we cannot turn to Eutelsat’s competitors,” he said.
The MIRA launched Al Islah TV in May 2003, a few months after launching Al Islah radio. Jamming of both the TV and radio station began in October 2003 after they broadcast a MIRA call for demonstrations.