Page last updated at 14:24 GMT, Monday, 1 February 2010

Georgian TV 'blocked by Russia'

First Caucasian newsroom
First Caucasian has only been on the air for two weeks

Georgia says broadcasts of its new Russian-language television station have been suspended because of "pressure from the Russian government".

The channel, called First Caucasian, was being transmitted by a French satellite operator, Eutelsat.

Georgia accused Eutelsat of suspending broadcasts, after only two weeks of operation, under Russian pressure.

Eutelsat has denied that was the reason, saying First Caucasian was only being carried on a trial basis.

It said no contract had been signed with the channel and that negotiations were still under way.

"From our perspective there should be no reason why we should not conclude a contract with them," Eutelsat spokeswoman Vanessa O'Connor told the AFP news agency.

She denied the company had come under Russian pressure, and said the station could resume broadcasting as soon as a contract was signed.

Propaganda war

Georgia and Russia have been locked in a propaganda war ever since they went to war in August 2008.

Georgia launched its state-run, Russian-language channel in mid-January, on the internet and on satellite.

But when the satellite broadcasts stopped at the weekend, it issued a statement accusing Eutelsat of being a "tool of Russian censorship."

It said Eutelsat had signed a lucrative contract with a Russian firm called Intersputnik, whose clients reportedly include the Russian state-controlled firm, Gazprom Media.

The move leaves "Intersputnik and Gazprom Media Group - both of which adhere to the Kremlin's editorial line - with a de facto satellite transmission monopoly over Russian-language audience," its statement said.

But Eutelsat's spokeswoman told AFP that Intersputnik had been a client for several years and that a recently announced deal was simply "an extension of the contract which was just being renewed and extended."

Georgia is clearly upset that its latest project has stalled, says the BBC's Tom Esslemont in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

It had said it wanted to provide impartial news to places where the only alternative was Russian state TV.

In doing so it signed up high profile anti-Kremlin journalists, but they only attracted more criticism from Moscow, which dismissed the channel as propaganda.

But First Caucasian has hardly been on air long enough for anyone to draw real conclusions about the quality of its coverage, our correspondent says.

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