SHANGHAI – China is clamping down on the illegal use of satellite dishes — and the effort is kicking in hard in Shanghai, where authorities began door-to-door inspections last week.The move follows a call last October by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television. “The object is to ensure social order and the right direction of cultural and ideological progress; it is also expected to help foster our own radio and television industry,” Hu Zhanfan, deputy director of SARFT, said in a recent interview with China Central Television (CCTV).
Regulations on dish ownership are tight in China. Work units and individuals need a government license before equipment is installed. In practice, locals are not granted this permit; of the 420 licenses so far granted in Shanghai, most went to four and five star hotels and residential compounds that cater to foreigners.
Official statistics say there are 20,000 illegal dishes in Shanghai, of which 8,000 have so far been detected. But there may be as many as 200,000 secreted across the city.
“Our target is to rid the city of illegal satellite dishes by June,” says Yu Jiangru, an official of the municipal administration of radio, film and television.
Beijing too has seen an increase in police-backed actions against satellite dish owners. “The security bureau detects satellite signals from special vans that patrol residential areas,” notes Carol Lu, a Beijing-based journalist who covers the city’s entertainment scene. “I was considering having one installed, but I’ll wait for all this to calm down before I apply.”
The new enforcement is particularly punishing to those working in China’s fledgling media industry. “I get a lot of my ideas from watching foreign TV channels,” says one local radio presenter. “The crazy thing is that we can access any information we want on the Internet. It’s stupid to pick on satellite dishes, as if they were the only source of foreign news.”
Industry sources suggest that the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the U.S. may have precipitated Chinese government concerns: Millions of locals rushed to get news from CNN and Phoenix TV, rejecting CCTV’s sparse coverage.
“This kind of protectionism surely can’t be sustained for long now that China has joined the World Trade Organization,” comments one insider.
However, with China Intl. TV planning to consolidate all foreign satellite channels into a centralized broadcasting system in the near future, it seems unlikely that the government will release its hold soon.
Randy Guthrie, an American who has run a satellite installation service for several years in Shanghai, believes the prospects for satellite access in the future are uncertain at best.
“The authorities are really serious about it this time. There have been crackdowns before, and I just tell customers to hide their dish under a sheet. Even better, just don’t let bureau guys into your house. Unless they bring police, they have no authority.”