No reason given for refusal

HONG KONG — ESPN and Star Sports have gone off the air in China after the authorities refused to renew their permits last week.

They were the only channels among a group of foreign nets not to be reupped by China’s State Administration for Radio, Film and Television. No reason was given for the refusal.

Channels are operated out of Singapore by ESPN Star Sports, a joint venture between News Corp. and Disney, and were already restricted to broadcasting to hotels with three-star or higher ratings and to compounds for foreign nationals.

“ESPN Star Sports is still in the renewal process of its ‘landing rights’ and is actively working to conclude the arrangements,” an ESS spokesman said in a written statement. News Corp.’s Star TV unit declined to comment.

The most plausible explanation for the refusal involves soccer rights.

A group of local channels broadcasts English Premier League soccer matches in China, and ESS was recently outbid by Guangdong Television for rights to matches over next three seasons starting this fall.

Industry sources speculate Sarft may be further punishing News Corp., which in 2005 was deemed to have exceeded its mandate with Qinghai satellite TV. However, other Star channels have had their permits renewed.

Another theory is that the refusal was an administrative blunder.

A spopkesperson for the net said, “ESPN Star Sports is still in the renewal process of its landing rights and is actively working to conclude the arrangements.”

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