How a French satellite operator helps keep Russia’s TV propaganda online

Enlarge / Russian President Vladimir Putin will speak at the Moscow Urban Forum 2018 on July 18, 2018 in Moscow, Russia.

Getty Images | Mikhail Svetlov

Not long after Russia invaded South Ossetia in 2008, effectively annexing the territory to its southern neighbor, a group of Georgians joined forces to create a new Russian-language television station, a voice independent of the Kremlin: Channel PIK.

With the help of Georgia’s public television company, they signed a five-year agreement with French satellite operator Eutelsat to broadcast their station into the Caucasus. Just two weeks after they were launched in 2010, Eutelsat PIK announced that they were lost. Their space on the satellite had been promised to Gazprom Media Group, a mainstay in Moscow tightly controlled media system.

Kanal PIK sa i en statement at the time that the saga “leaves Intersputnik and Gazprom Media Group – both of which join the Kremlin’s editorial line – with a de facto satellite broadcasting monopoly over the Russian-speaking audience.” Channel PIK would get a place on another Eutelsat a year later, but the station struggled and went dark in 2012.

More than a decade later, Russia is once again trying to consolidate its information hegemony in the region. And again, Eutelsat makes it possible. But two experts in the satellite industry say it is time for Ukraine’s allies to step up and force Eutelsat to prioritize real reports on the situation in Ukraine over Russia’s state-supported disinformation.

“It is not normal for a French satellite to be used for a propaganda war,” said André Lange, one half of the Denis Diderot committee. If their proposal is adopted, “it would be a bomb blast in the Russian media world,” said Jim Phillipoff, a former head of satellite television and former CEO of the Kyiv Post. He’s the other half of the Diderot Committee.

The Phillipoff and Lange Committee, set up in March, has, in principle, only one recommendation: Disconnect Russia’s leading satellite TV providers from the Eutelsat satellites and replace them with stations transporting independent and credible journalism to Russia. “That is the ultimate goal of our effort – to actually provide alternative media channels to the Russian television room that are not controlled by the Russian government,” Phillipoff told WIRED.

Russian television has been everywhere and infallibly for the war against Ukraine and dutifully promoted Moscow official propaganda– and too often, disinformation. Satellite TV is especially important, especially for areas with poor broadband connectivity. The Council of Europe estimates that about 30 percent of Russian households pay for satellite TV. About half of the country has satellite dishes in their homes, says Phillipoff.

These dishes are largely calibrated to receive signals from five satellites, all handled by Eutelsat. The two main satellites orbit in 36 ° east, giving them coverage for large parts of Eastern Europe and western Russia: One, 36B, is owned directly by Eutelsat; the other, 36C, is owned by the Russian government and leased to Eutelsat – which in turn leases the space back to Russian television operators. The other three satellites are directly owned by Russia but are managed by Eutelsat and cover central, northern and eastern Russia.

Leave a Comment