Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and human rights activists are demanding that the French communications regulator, Arcom, put an end to the broadcasting of major Russian television channels through French satellites operated by Eutelsat. As they underline, the French operator is playing an instrumental role in spreading the Kremlin's propaganda, transmitting the signal to over 15 million households in the European part of Russia (which, in turn, accounts for 50% of Russia's television audience).
The channels in question are highly influential nationwide networks spreading false information about the war and inciting genocide against the Ukrainian nation: most importantly, Rossiya 1, Channel One, and NTV. The broadcasting package also includes Zvezda, a channel edited by Russia's Ministry of Defense.
Notably, Eutelsat's largest shareholder is the French state itself with a 22.65% stake through BPI France, a public investment bank. The enterprise also has direct ties to the Russian authorities, with its Cypriot subsidiary run by the son of the former Russian Ambassador to France. Meanwhile, France is making tens of millions of euros cooperating with Russian television providers: since Russia invaded Ukraine, Eutelsat's turnover in Russia reached €78 million (mostly from broadcasting activities) and even showed a slight year-on-year growth.
Still image from typical propaganda program on Russian TV
Julia Davis, monitoring of Russian channels
As Eutelsat itself boasts, two of its satellites, Eutelsat 36B и Eutelsat 36C, reach half of households with access to television across Russia and the CIS, forming the region's leading broadcasting neighborhood. Furthermore, the Express AT1 and Express AT2 satellites provide coverage for the rest of Russia including Siberia and the Russian Far East The signal from these satellites is received by around 15 million satellite TV dishes of two providers: Trikolor and NTV Plus. In all, the two Eutelsat's clients transmit more than 300 television channels and 50 radio stations. Apart from the Russian Federation, they operate on occupied Ukrainian territories, and even in Europe, where Russian-speaking subscribers in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania can access them through the gray market.
Despite the seeming diversity, the platforms have recently stopped broadcasting eight international news channels in Russia, including BBC World, CNN, Deutsche Welle, France 24, and TV5 Monde, claiming that they were acting in conformity with the Russian regulator. Nevertheless, it has not revoked the licenses of any of these channels in Russia.
Propaganda providers operate across the entire Russian Federation, on occupied Ukrainian territories and even in Europe
The offending channels - state-owned Rossiya 1 and Channel One, and NTV, owned by Gazprom and thus effectively controlled by the state, - are Russia’s three most watched channels. In its 266-page report, the Diderot Committee compiles dozens of statements and excerpts broadcast on the three channels, praising the Russian military intervention in Ukraine and spreading the Kremlin's propaganda, particularly in terms of hate speech against the Ukrainian people. The Committee’s analysis provides sufficient evidence of these main three channels’ domination in the television market and their non-negligible importance as a source of information for other media and social networks. Most of the remarks reported were made in the flagship programs of these channels.
Apart from lending satellite capacities for Russia’s domestic broadcasting, Eutelsat also provides free-to-air transmission of six more Russian channels, including RT Arabic, across Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.
Eutelsat providing technical assistance to the Russian apparatus of war propaganda and incitement to genocide is morally unacceptable and contrary to the strategic alliance with Ukraine, human rights activists assert.
Despite the numerous alert letters sent to political leaders and to European and French administrations, the Denis Diderot Committee, apart from formal acknowledgments of receipt, has received only one substantive response.
The activists have also launched a petition urging European authorities to impose sanctions on entities spreading Russian propaganda. They suggest disconnecting Russian's backbone providers from Eutelsat satellites and replace them with independent Russian and European broadcasting media. By the time of publication, the petition has received around 3,000 signatures.
Eutelsat's top management refuses to see the problem with their business operations. Early in May, the Managing Director of Eutelsat, Eva Berneke announced the company's «neutrality» with regard to the political conflict in which Russia was involved (carefully avoiding the word «war»). She also emphasized that the decision about cutting ties with the Russian providers remains at the discretion of the French authorities.