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Russian Spoofing Sends War Scenes to Kids’ Channel in Europe

(Bloomberg) — European satellite companies have been suffering for months from interference attempts originating from Russia, according to documents seen by Bloomberg, leading to interrupted broadcasts and even violent programming sent to a children’s television channel. 

At least three of French operator Eutelsat SA’s satellites have been seriously affected since mid-March, and the disruption continued until at least until the end of May, a person familiar with the issue said. 

On two occasions — on March 28 and on April 17 — the interference replaced the programming of Walt Disney Co.’s children’s entertainment channel BabyTV with war videos in Russian. As a consequence, Dutch cable operator Ziggo removed BabyTV from its offering until early May. 

“The interference has been clearly identified as coming from large earth stations and should therefore be recorded and monitored by the Russian Federation authorities,” France’s Agence Nationale des Frequences said in a letter to the Radio Regulations Board, an international telecommunications watchdog based in Geneva, that was seen by Bloomberg.

A spokesman for the International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations agency which coordinates the global sharing of radio frequencies and satellite orbits, said the reports will be discussed at the next meeting of Radio Regulations Board on June 24-28. The Russian radio frequency center didn’t respond to a request for comment. France’s Agence Nationale des Frequences declined to comment.

“Eutelsat Group is fully aware of deliberate radio frequency interference from external sources which has had an intermittent impact on some services,” a spokesman for the French company said in an emailed statement. “Working in cooperation with the appropriate regulatory authorities, Eutelsat Group teams are fully engaged on this issue.”

Amid its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has been trying to disrupt various European communication systems as it tests the preparedness of the European Union and NATO. In April, Estonia and Finland accused Moscow of jamming GPS signals, disrupting flights and maritime traffic.

Eutelsat satellites are not the only ones that have been targeted, and the impact has also been felt as far as Ukraine and Portugal, the person said, asking not to be identified because the details aren’t public. Swedish satellites have also been targeted with broadcasts originating from Moscow, Kaliningrad and Crimea, they said. 

Sweden, the Netherlands and Luxembourg have presented complaints similar to France’s to the Geneva board, according to documents seen by Bloomberg.

Already in March, the French agency had written to its Russian counterpart to complain about the interference. 

“By means of measurements, with the support of a dedicated system for interference detection, we found that the uplink transmission of this interfering carrier originates from the area of Moscow on the territory of your Administration,” it said in a separate letter seen by Bloomberg.

–With assistance from Benoit Berthelot, Hugo Miller, Tony Halpin, Katrina Manson, Cagan Koc and Alan Katz.

(Updated in fifth paragraph to state that the Agence Nationale des Frequences declined to comment.)

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

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