Murdoch talks tough

NEW DELHI — Media baron Rupert Murdoch said Tuesday the British Broadcasting Corp. could lose a key channel on his Star TV satellite network unless it addressed bias charges leveled by India and China.

Murdoch said he was inclined to replace the BBC with his own Sky TV news channel to improve the overseas image of both countries as well as to seek better ties with them.

“That may be a solution that we may have to come to,” Murdoch told a news conference at the end of an eight-day tour of India.

“We have a legally binding contract with the BBC,” he said. “We would hope that we can resolve most of these complications with them before taking such a drastic step as that.”

Murdoch said viewers in India and China made up the bulk of his Star TV clients. Star TV beams news and entertainment programs from Israel to East Asiaby satellite.

“When we bought Star TV we always thought that India was at least half the equation,” he said. “We did not buy the television just for China.”

Official figures put Chinese viewership at 35 million homes. Private television companies say foreign satellite transmissions in India, a phenomenon triggered by the 1990 Gulf War broadcasts, are beamed to some 8 million homes.

Official disapproval

Both countries have had troubled relations with the foreign media, including the BBC, whose multilingual radio programs are popular with listeners but often frowned upon officially.

India, which expelled a Delhi-based BBC correspondent during its 1975-77 emergency rule, frequently complains about alleged bias in its coverage of separatist insurgences.

China has clamped down on Star TV dish antennas, and the government has been incensed by a recent BBC documentary that touched on the late Chinese leader Mao Tsetung’s sex life.

“There has been some sensitivity, particularly about beaming foreign news into China,” Murdoch said. “We certainly intend to do everything we can to resolve certain difficulties with the government of China.”

He encountered similar complaints in India.

“The prime minister and the home minister, among others, are all concerned about the image that India has in the rest of the world,” Murdoch said.

Sex and violence decried

There have been noisier protests, often aimed specifically against Murdoch’s own product. A Hindu social reform group launched a mass campaign in December against what it said was an invasion of Indian homes by a sex-and-violence culture beamed by Western satellite television networks such as Star TV.

“I believe that the world has a very inadequate understanding of what is happening in this country. We should be publishing and broadcasting a lot more about India,” Murdoch said.

As a first step, he said, he had discussed local ventures.

“We are here not just out of curiosity but also because we are examining the expansion of television in the country.

“We plan not to bring a lot of signals into India but to take part in the indigenous television industry itself, making films, TV programs, as well as broadcasting them,” Murdoch said.

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