France under pressure to pull the plug on Falun Gong TV

Beijing is putting pressure on France to knock broadcasting by Falun Gong members to the mainland off air.

Set up by Falun Gong supporters, New Tang Dynasty Television started broadcasting to the mainland on Eutelsat's W5 satellite in April. Eutelsat is a French-registered company.

"We're afraid that the broadcast will be cut off due to Beijing's pressure," said a station spokeswoman.

"We know that the Chinese ambassador and diplomats have been meeting with the French government, with our commercial partner Eutelsat.

"This is a test case for freedom of expression."

Falun Gong has been banned on the mainland as an "evil cult" since 1999.

The mainland has already had some success against the station. Media association Reporters Sans Frontieres said that three days after the station started broadcasting on a satellite owned by the NSS company based in the Netherlands, NSS encrypted the signal following threats of economic sanctions against the company by Beijing.

The Chinese embassy in Paris declined to comment on the latest case.

Eutelsat, one of the world's leading satellite companies whose 24 satellites provide coverage to nearly 90 per cent of the world's population, also declined comment.

The French Foreign Ministry confirmed that Beijing had contacted it about the station.

But a Foreign Ministry spokesman said: "It is an issue for [France's] Supreme Audiovisual Council, which is an independent administration that takes its decisions independently."

The council, which issued a broadcasting licence to the station on March 30, said it had not been contacted by either China or the French Foreign Ministry about the station.

"The [council] has issued its authorisation to the channel. There is no going backwards on our part," said a spokeswoman.

But council officials privately say it is likely the station will be knocked off Eutelsat's W5 satellite.

"Eutelsat is likely to interrupt [the station's] broadcasts to China," said a Supreme Audiovisual Council official.