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BBC, Star TV to split in parts of Asia

The BBC and Rupert Murdoch’s Asian satellite TV venture Star TV have agreed to a partial separation.

As of April 17, BBC World Service TV, the pubcaster’s 24-hour global news and information channel, will be dropped from Star’s program package in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea.

But Star has pledged to continue carrying the BBC in the rest of Asia, including the vital Indian market, for at least another two years.

Months of tension

The deal, announced Monday by BBC WSTV chairman Bob Phillis and News Corp. director Sam Chisholm, is the consequence of months of tension between the two sides following Murdoch’s acquisition of Star last summer.

It became increasingly clear that News Corp. regarded the BBC news service as a political liability in Star’s quest to develop better relationships with a number of Asian governments, notably the Communist regime in China.

However, the BBC’s name is also a powerful draw to audiences in many parts of Asia, especially in India, where the pubcaster’s long-established radio World Service remains hugely influential and respected. World Service TV is believed to attract half of all the advertising revenues across Star’s six free channels.

Hence the latest compromise: The BBC will continue to transmit on the southern beam of StarAsiasat bird until March 31, 1996, but will be dropped from the northern beam.

The BBC and Star also have agreed to end their legal dispute over the BBC’s plans to launch a version of World Service TV in the Middle East, enabling it to pursue its Arabic venture.

The original contract between the two sides in 1991 gave either party the right to terminate their relationship unilaterally from December 1994. Thus the BBC cast the new deal as a victory, guaranteeing its presence in Asia for a further 15 months.

However, the fact remains that the BBC will now have to find new ways into some of Asia’s biggest markets. World Service TV is finding its global expansion plans harder to implement than it predicted, having already missed its self-imposed deadline of worldwide reach by 1993’s end.

But Murdoch also has his problems with Star, with the Asian market proving an extremely tough nut to crack. He needs good relations with local politicians if Star is to stand any chance of expanding its limited reach and recouping his $ 600 million investment in the venture.

But some Asian rulers, used to exercising tight control over the media, are alarmed by the prospect of Western news beaming into their countries.

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