93. Telegram 48280 From the Department of State to the United States Mission to the United Nations at Geneva1 2


  • UN Working Group on Direct Broadcast Satellites: Instructions to US Delegation

There follow instructions for US del to Fifth Session of UN Working Group on Direct Broadcast Satellites (DBS) scheduled March 11–22, Geneva:

Position on principles for use of DBS.
Del should reiterate previous US view that lack of experience with DBS renders largely unrealistic efforts to foresee and resolve now all questions concerning use of this technology; moreover, some questions now being raised may well never present practical problems, and others doubtless will emerge in very different form. At same time, del should also make clear continuing US support of relevant provisions of Universal Declaration of Human Rights and importance of different limitations on authority of states in matters affecting freedom of information (e.g., in US case, constitutional limitations). Del should state, however, that US recognizes desire of GA to proceed with consideration, discussion and elaboration of principles.
US not prepared to consider binding principles incorporated in convention or agreement.
Regarding non-binding principles, del should make clear that because GA has instructed both WG and Legal Subcommittee (LSC) to consider this matter, US believes any WG recommendations which may be adopted should be viewed as part of continuing process, not as “final word.”
US draft principles. Del should express US position that although widely divergent views regarding DBS have been advanced, some of which we cannot accept, an area of common interest nonetheless seems to us to exist. Accordingly we would be prepared to explore this possibility; to assist WG in doing so US has developed set of principles which we believe reflect that common interest. Del is authorized to table US working paper containing set of draft principles as developed on interagency basis and approved by Under Secretary for Political Affairs.
Problems of definition and applicability. Del should call attention of WG to need for taking into account two problems of definition:
First, neither GA nor WG has defined “direct broadcast satellite” for political and legal purposes. Definitions adopted by 1971 WARC do not resolve the matter since they draw distinction between broadcasting services for community reception and individual reception. WG has in past further divided latter category into systems for broadcasting to augmented and unaugmented receivers. Del may point out that it is not necessarily the case that any principles would be equally applicable to all three modes. Del should seek to ensure that WG report notes this unresolved question.
Second problem of definition stems from need to refer to “international” direct television broadcasting by satellite rather than to use formulation which might be construed as applying to domestic use. Del should ensure that WG report avoids language having latter effect.
Technical/economic factors.
Del should report to WG on status of ATS–F. In this connection, deL should call attention to invitations being issued by AID to representatives of various countries to attend symposium April 19–26, Denver, concerning plans for using and evaluating use of ATS–F in Appalachia, Rocky Mountain area, and Alaska. Del should again call attention to possibility that if ATS–F continues to be functional beyond planned year of cooperative experiment with India, interested countries might wish to give thought to similar experimental use of ATS–F. Del should point out encouraging signs that cooperative framework within which community antenna systems emerging offers promising route to maximizing beneficial use of this technology.
Del should also note plans for US-Canadian cooperation in CAS–C satellite and plans of private US companies for domestic satellites (DOMSATS).
Del should encourage other countries (in particular Japan and FRG) to clarify their plans for experimental domestic satellites.
Foregoing discussion should clarify any confusion that may have arisen regarding technical limits of these projects. Del should seek to incorporate in WG report sufficient identification and analysis of technical/economic factors to support perspective that “true” international direct television broadcasting by satellite will not occur in near term.
Role of ITU. Del should take exception to statements by some countries implying that provisions adopted pursuant to the 1971 WARC go beyond technical coordination. Del should stress importance to all concerned of protecting viability of ITU as technical body. Coordination procedures would, however, ensure advance notification of any plans. Del should ensure accurate treatment of this matter in WG report.
Consent principle. Del should take note of various proposals which would require consent of receiving country to international direct television broadcasting by satellite and should call attention to need for much more intensive examination of implications of such proposals. Specifically, del should raise following questions:
First, since such proposals evidently envisage power of absolute veto by receiving countries, how can support for this power, which could be exercised arbitrarily, be consistent with support for expanding exchange of information and ideas?
Second, receiving countries could seek to impose all manner of burdens, including overall censorship, or prohibition of specific types of program material, as price for giving consent or as pretext for not doing so. Is this envisaged by countries supporting broad consent principle? What would be effect on use of DBS of efforts of one sort or another to impose restrictions widely varying in scope and impact?
Third, how do countries supporting consent principle envisage dealing with problems which could arise from sudden, arbitrary withdrawal of consent (possible as result of change in ruling party or regime in receiving country)?
Fourth, taking into account spillover problem, do countries supporting consent principle assume exceptions could be made to preclude veto of domestic DBS system by neighboring country or veto of regional system by one or more non-participating countries? Have countries which may desire domestic or regional systems weighed viability of relying on exceptions based on distinction between unavoidable or unintentional and intentional broadcasting?
Fifth, what would be possible implications of consent principle in DBS case for other communications media? While expressing opposition to consent principle, del should reassure others that this should not be construed as reflecting any intent on part of US to “abuse”DBS in event of our future use of this technology.
Censorship proposals. Del should express view that as practical matter any broadcasting entities interested in use of DBS for international direct satellite television broadcasting would be aware their interests would not be served by transmission of material objectionable to audiences in receiving countries. Consequently, it is reasonable to expect broadcasting entities would take appropriate steps to acquaint themselves with customs and attitudes of other countries. However, del should make clear that US, for its own part, could not accept proposals which envisage or imply censorship.
Past proposals of other countries. Del should stress desirability of complete perspective on wide range of DBS proposals appearing in WG reports over the years e.g., French proposal of 1970). To this end, del should ask countries concerned to clarify current status of such proposals.
Common interest in avoiding restrictive principles. Del should point out hazard that restrictive principles could discourage development of broad range of communications satellites and benefits they might bring as practical difficulties are overcome; in contrast, approaches stressing cooperation, consultation, and peaceful resolution of any disagreements could provide basis for use of this technology in expanding “two way” exchanges of information and ideas.
WG recommendations to Legal Subcommittee (LSC). In light of GA instruction to WG, del should express view WG recommendations to LSC should fall into two categories.
First category would identify broad topics LSC might appropriately consider: for example, relevant existing international agreements, implications of law and practices involving other communications media, possible implications for other communications media of actions related to DBS.
Second category would include specific principles which may be proposed for LSC consideration by one or another WG member. Del should make clear US will not oppose WG recommendation that LSC consider and discuss principles supported by some countries even if no WG consensus achievable. Divergent views should, however, be explicitly noted in WG report. Del should oppose any recommendation that LSC take up DBS principles as “urgent matter” and should insist that LSC priorities established by GA be maintained.
Future of WG. Consistent with US views on current lack of practical experience, del should, if considered useful, initiate or support WG recommendation that if GA so desires, WG Could be called on in future to review experience that may be gained in use of DBS technology and any related developments.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files. Limited Official Use; Priority. Repeated for information to USUN New York. Drafted by Gathright and Black; cleared in L/UNA, IO/UNP, EB/TD, and CU; and approved by Blake. The Draft Principles on Direct Broadcast Satellites, circulated by the U.S. delegation on March 12, are published in UN document A/AC.105/127, Annex IV.
  2. The telegram forwarded instructions for the U.S. delegation to the UN Working Group on Direct Broadcast Satellites.