Unauthorized foreign broadcasts are prohibited

BEIJING — As part of its efforts to keep a tight grip on the media, particularly overseas media, China is cracking down on cable TV operators that are screening unauthorized foreign satellite broadcasts.

China’s TV watchdog, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) last month ordered local authorities to track down cable companies that are offering foreign channels to Chinese homes. These broadcasters are officially limited to upscale hotels and residential compounds where foreigners live and work.

Television content is strictly controlled in China and the government has resisted any efforts to allow freedom of expression on TV, which has led to a clampdown on foreign involvement in Chinese TV stations.

SARFT says the order was aimed at “strengthening regulation, maintaining government information controls, and blocking the intellectual and cultural infiltration of enemy forces.” Any stations violating the rules will have to reapply for the right to receive all satellite broadcasts.

The move is a major blow for Hong Kong’s Phoenix satellite news channel, which is a big hit among the middle classes in southern China and increasingly in other parts of the country too.

Phoenix is a joint venture with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which has been operating for around 10 years. It generally avoids any sensitive issues. There have been regular rumors that Murdoch is keen to dispose of his 38% stake in the firm as he has failed to gain a significant foothold in the Chinese market.

An unidentified Phoenix executive told the Hong Kong newspaper the South China Morning Post that the channel had lost 4 million viewers in Guangdong alone.

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