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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 November, 2004, 13:01 GMT
China opens TV to foreign firms
TVs in Beijing department store
The new rules will not apply to news programming
China has announced it will allow foreign companies to buy large stakes in Chinese television and film production ventures.

The move, which takes effect on 28 November, will let foreign investors own up to 49% of the joint ventures.

It marks a major reform in the rules governing China's tightly controlled broadcast market.

The new rules will also give foreign companies access to the world's largest market by viewership.

Over 300 million Chinese households are thought to have televisions.

Chinese TV advertising sales are expected to surge a third to $24bn this year, according to the US-based Nielsen Media Research.

Corporate interest

The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, which announced the policy change on its website, said Chinese companies had to hold a controlling stake of any joint venture.

Two-thirds of programming must use "Chinese themes", it added.

Chinese television is heavy on patriotic fare, and Beijing has long used the medium as a propaganda organ.

Investment in news and current affairs programming and in TV stations remains off-limits.

China has been under pressure to liberalise its investment rules as part of the terms under which it joined the World Trade Organisation in 2001.

Western media firms such as Viacom, News Corp and Time Warner have been courting Chinese officials for years in efforts to gain access to the fast-growing market.

"It's not going to change the landscape for us," said Hong Kong-based Disney official Lucien Harrington, told the Reuters news agency.

The company has long been broadcasting cartoons and other programming on China's airwaves, he said, "but anything that makes access easier is welcomed".

Viacom signed an agreement to produce TV shows in Shanghai in March.

The venture, in which Viacom took a minority stake, is expected to be the first of its kind on the basis of the new law.

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