Saturday, February 13, 2010

Gazprom Media Muscles in on Georgian Television Station

The New York Times (2-1-10) reports on Gazprom Media, the media arm of the state-controlled natural gas giant Gazprom:

In an echo of the cat-and-mouse game of signal jamming in the Soviet Union, a Russian-language television station in Georgia is accusing a Russian company of blocking its broadcasts into Russia by buying out the spectrum on a French-operated television satellite.

The Georgian station, Georgian Public Broadcasting, had signed a contract with the satellite operator Eutelsat, based in Paris, to broadcast news in Russian to Russia and other former Soviet states, apparently trying to crack the Kremlin’s near monopoly of television news.

The Georgian channel, which is publicly financed, broadcast on a trial basis for 11 days in January and was to formally begin its broadcasts on Monday. But it is off the air for now, and the Georgians are accusing Eutelsat of caving to Russian pressure.

At a news conference in Paris on Monday, Georgian television executives said that as late as Jan. 14 they had a binding offer from Eutelsat to broadcast the new channel for one year.

But according to the Georgian executives, the French company backed out the next day, after announcing that it had received a more lucrative offer from Gazprom Media, an arm of Gazprom, the Russian natural gas giant, for the same spectrum the Georgians had contracted for.

“It would be easy to interpret the series of bizarre excuses from Eutelsat to GPBS as the result of pressure from Gazprom Media Group on Eutelsat to preserve Gazprom Media’s monopoly in Russian broadcast areas,” the Georgian station said in a statement in Paris...

A spokeswoman for Gazprom Media, Irina A. Zemkova, called the satellite booking purely commercial and said Gazprom Media had concluded the contract “without any political ideas at all.”...

The Georgian government conceived of the idea of a Russian-language news channel after the Russian-Georgian war in 2008 as a counterweight to the anti-Georgian propaganda in Russia’s state-owned news media, which are widely viewed throughout the former Soviet Union.

Eutelsat has offered to shift the programming to another satellite, called W2. But this satellite would require a type of antenna that few people have in the former Soviet Union, Georgian television officials said. Not only were Russians unlikely to buy the specialized antennas, the Georgians said, but owning one would also immediately identify customers of the Georgian station to law enforcement. [See the full text.]

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