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Eutelsat denies Georgian bias allegations

Satellite operator Eutelsat is engaged in an increasingly fractious dispute with the Georgian public broadcaster over allegations by the latter that it has refused to carry public broadcaster GBP’s Russian-language First Caucasian Channel under pressure from Russia.

GPB chairman Levan Gakheladze has accused Eutelsat of dropping the channel from the W7 satellite at 36° East after a test period for political reasons and because of Eutelsat’s commercial relationship with Gazprom Media Group, owner of Russian pay-TV service NTV-Plus. Moscow-based Intersputnik has leased 16 transponders on W7 for the expansion of NTV-Plus’s services.

Eutelsat yesterday issued a statement to the effect that it had no contract with GPB and that it did not respond to political pressure in its business dealings. The company said that “negotiations were pursued in 2009 with several customers interested in the same capacity on this satellite, and that it has selected to allocate this capacity to a European telecommunications operator after receiving a firm commitment for significantly more capacity than that requested by the Georgian broadcaster.”

Eutelsat offered to host GPB on the W2A satellite, which has coverage over Georgia and western Russia. In response to GPB’s claims that W7 offered better access to Russian consumer antennas, Eutelsat said that Russian TV platforms used capacity with circular polarisation, requiring equipment not compatible with the linear polarisation used in the rest of Europe and also in Georgia.

The dispute is set to be heard before a Paris court following an action initiated by GPB.