Danish chief executive accused of keeping Putin propaganda machine alive (Børsen, 25.4.2022)
Eva Berneke' French Eutelsat provides satellite signals to two Russian TV platforms that have removed eight Western channels
by Thomas G. Svaneborg, Johan Christensen, Louise With
(original in Danish : Dansk topchef anklaget for at holde liv i Putins propagandamaskine)
Danish Eva Berneke, CEO of the French satellite company Eutelsat, is accused of helping to keep alive an important part of the propaganda that the Russian government broadcasts daily about the war in Ukraine to millions of Russian TV viewers.
Eva Berneke has previously been CEO of TDC and KMD and sits on the board of both Lego and Vestas.
Removed eight channels
The criticism against her stems from Eutelsat's continued collaboration with the two Russian pay-TV platforms NTV-Plus and Tricolor, which earlier this month removed eight Western TV channels from their TV packages, to which more than 12 million Russian households subscribe.
"This is the weakest link in Putin's entire propaganda infrastructure" says Jim Phillipoff, media expert.
Despite the fact that NTV-Plus and Tricolor no longer allow channels such as BBC World, CNN, France 24 and Deutsche Welle to appear in their packages, the two TV platforms can continue to use Eutelsat's satellites to deliver the Russian messages.
"I am very critical of Eutelsat. The best thing the company can do in terms of their international reputation will be to pull the plug as soon as possible on NTV-Plus and Tricolor" said Jim Phillipoff, a former CEO of Kyiv Post and former chief executive of Ukrainian satellite tv company Xtra TV.
12mio. Russian households receive TV via Eutelsat
Together with André Lange, who was previously head of Department at the European Audiovisual Observatory (Council of Europe) and is now affiliated with a University of Liege (Belgium), he is behind The Denis Diderot Commitee.
Among other things, the committee keeps an eye on what information is being disseminated via satellite TV during Russia war with Ukraine and is working to convince the European Commission to also sanction the two Russian TV platforms so that Eutelsat is banned from servicing them.
Support from several
So far, the initiative has received the backing of a number of international journalists; associations, legal experts and European politicians.
Børsen has spoken to Eva Berneke, who does not want to comment on the criticism. She refers instead to Eutelsat's communications department, where a press spokeswoman has sent a series of written responses. Among other things, Eutelsat explains that it "pursues a strict policy of neutrality" and always adheres to the guidelines set by the regulatory authorities in France and the EU. This has led, for example, to the fact that signals from two pro-Russian television stations have already been prevented from being forwarded to a number of Western countries via Eutelsat's satellites.
FACTS - EUTELSAT
Is a publicly traded French satellite company, founded in 1977 and listed on the Euronext Paris Stock Exchange.
Around 7,000 TV channels run through the company's systems to about 1 billion viewers.
Has 1200 employees in 50 different countries.
Danish Eva Berneke has been CEO since 1 January 2022. Prior to that, she was a director at KMD and TDC. She also sits on the boards of Vestas and Lego.
For now, however, Eutelsat will not interfere with which channels russian viewers will have access to. "No authority has so far ordered us to suspend the broadcast of Russian channels broadcast via pay-TV exclusively in Russia" the press spokeswoman said.
But that attitude, according to Jim Phillipoff, is too passive. "They say they want to be neutral, but in my view that means presenting a balanced picture, and that is not
happening now. Many firms in all industries are not waiting for sanctions, but are withdrawing from Russia for reasons of principle and reputation. I understand it's hard, but they could do a lot more completely unilaterally and not just wait for the authorities to instruct them to do something" Phillipoff said.
Eutelsat has chosen a side
Telecom analyst John Strand is also critical of Eutelsat with Eva Berneke at the helm. "Eutelsat has had the opportunity to make a choice in the same way as every other company that has pulled out of Russia. There we must note that they have chosen Putin and have taken a different path than their colleagues. Therefore, I believe that Eva Berneke has positioned herself really badly the day the story is to be written" says John Strand.
Instead, American Jim Phillipoff believes Eva Berneke should spearhead a policy in which Eutelsat allows other and free media access to the satellites so that the 40 percent of Russians who have a satellite dish aimed at Eutelsat 36° E satellites can access anything other than the Russian-controlled content.
"Eutelsat's 36 E° satellites are actually a very important piece because you have a very young population that is more sympathetic to the Ukrainian cause and is on the internet, but then you have the older part of the population that only watches TV, and this hits that segment" Phillipoff says.
According to a poll by a group of independent sociologists – based on 1640 respondents and published on the site Extreme Scan – support for the war is highest among Russians watching TV (68 per cent), while it is supported by only 34 per cent among Russians who do not watch TV.
He therefore believes that Eutelsat has a unique opportunity.
"Here's a way for a Western company to really make an impact, and Eutelsat should definitely be doing more than they do. This is the weakest link in Putin's entire propaganda infrastructure. You have a French satellite company that provides access to a large part of the Russian population. Putin doesn't have that type of broadcast anywhere else, because everything else has been shut down" Phillipoff said.
But isn't that more of a board decision than a decision Eva Berneke can make?
"I believe that the CEO plays a crucial role in setting the company's policy. She must, of course, take into account the board and shareholders, but she is the one who must drive the policy. And she's the one who has to convince the board" Phillipoff said.
Social media in use
It's not just The Denis Diderot Commitee and John Strand who criticize Eutelsat. On social media, the company is also being attacked for its continued cooperation with the Russians. It is especially on Twitter and Linkedin that the criticism is harshest.
Here, critics share, among other things, a series of memes with the headline "Bloody Revenues", which show a Eutelsat satellite with blood stains. Other memes read "Stop Russian Propaganda – Eutelsat Kills".
On Twitter, Roman Koldodiy also writes: "Despite all the European sanctions throughout the two-month war (...) Russian TV channels continue their propaganda via Europe. You're running a damn business."
Propaganda and lies
Other critics use Eutelsat's Linkedin profile as a platform for their criticism.
"I want to know why you continue to send Russian propaganda and lies in Europe. Why must terrorists influence the democratic world?" asks a Ukrainian software engineer.
According to critics at The Denis Diderot Commitee, Eutelsat's executive board told Advanced Television that about 6 percent of the company's revenue is exposed to the Russian market.
The majority of this comes from distribution to the two Russian platforms NTV Plus and Tricolor, which the Stock Exchange has not managed to get a comment from before the deadline.