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Wednesday, June 2, 1999 Published at 11:38 GMT 12:38 UK


China curbs satellite TV, Internet on Tiananmen anniversary

The authorities in China have been seizing satellite dishes and decoder boxes during the past five weeks to prevent the unauthorized relaying and viewing of foreign television broadcasts.

Foreign TV channels available in Beijing, including CNN, have been temporarily interrupted, supposedly for maintenance work.

The crackdown comeson the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square killings of pro-democracy students on 4th June 1989.

Peter Feuilherade of BBC Monitoring' s Foreign Media Unit has the background: At the end of April this year, the `Beijing Daily' published a warning recalling that, in terms of China's 1993 ban on satellite reception, it was illegal to import, sell or use equipment to receive foreign TV broadcasts without permission.

The newspaper carried the number of a telephone hotline encouraging citizens to report on illegal broadcasts.

In Beijing, international channels broadcasting from France, Italy, Spain and Germany have been interrupted for " maintenance" until 24th June.

On 2nd June China also shut down access to the US satellite news channel CNN for some Chinese viewers in Beijing, Reuters news agency reported.

The agency noted that on 3rd June, CNN was due to broadcast a one-hour special programme on the 1989 crackdown.

It said the curbs on CNN were not being extended to the diplomatic compounds in the capital where many foreigners live and which are not subject to government restrictions.

Tourist hotels, foreign housing compounds and other officially sanctioned sites can apply to receive foreign satellite TV channels legally.

Many private housing estates and households have illegally registered as foreign compounds to get around the satellite dish ban.

Foreign programming is widely picked up for rebroadcast by hundreds of cable TV operators throughout China, and tens of millions of Chinese viewers are estimated to watch foreign programmes illegally, particularly where local authorities turned a blind eye to the law.

An official document, jointly issued by the propaganda department of the Communist Party Central Committee and the Ministry of Public Security and circulated nationally, ordered regional administrations and local agencies to remove all their satellite receivers unless they had special permission from the police.

The authorities have also ordered anyone wishing to post political news on a domestic web site to apply for prior permission from local authorities.

Chinese official statements say the crackdown on satellite TV is intended to stop people illegally receiving signals from satellite TV broadcasters based in Taiwan, Macao and Honk Kong.

Representatives of the US news channel CNN, which has an agreement with state-run Chinese Central Television so it can be transmitted with a decoder, said they did not think they had been affected by the new restrictions so far.

But foreign observers and some Hong Kong newspapers say thecrackdown on foreign satellite TV providers is directly linked to the heightened political climate in China in the run-up to the Tiananmen anniversary and the 50th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic in October.

The `Honk Kong Standard' on 27th May commented: "It is seen also as part of upgraded efforts to limit the West's influence on the public following multilateral disagreements over the Kosovo conflict and its consequences, including the NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade." The broadcasting magazine `Multichannel News International' quoted a Western media consultant, who requested anonymity, as predicting that the crackdown was not likely to be lifted before the end of the year.

The source added that "hard-line ideologues within the government had gained the upper hand over their technocrats.

In other words, those favouring the opening of China's borders to outside media sources were taking second place to those opposed to any concessions to the West." The US State Department 1998 report on human rights noted that "despite the sharp crackdown on political dissent at the end of the year," society as a whole in China continued to be more open and diverse.

This was reflected in the wide availability of satellite TV broadcasts, particularly in coastal provinces; the spread of cable TV in many cities, including access to global news networks; and the fact that at least six million citizens had access to the Internet, " although the government increased its efforts to try to control the content of material available on the Internet" .

The Chinese authorities are continuing to block some news-oriented web sites, including that of the Voice of America, the VOA programme "Communications World" confirmed on 22nd May.

On 1st June Reuters news agency reported that Sohu.com, a popular internet chatroom in China, announced it was suspending its operations for 10 days, to "improve the system and services".

The agency said it had been told by a Sohu employee that "it was because the company feared online users might use the chatroom to post antigovernment messages" .

Reuters said that messages criticizing the army crackdown in 1989 and a poem mourning those killed had been posted on another popular Chinese chatroom, www.netease.com.

China has warned that activities aimed at commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square events are aimed at "damaging social order" and would not be well received.

But web sites outside China are beyond the control of the Chinese authorities, and they will be powerless to stop online users posting antigovernment messages on those sites, much as they may want to do so.

Source: Monitoring research 2 Jun 99

BBC Monitoring (http://www.monitor.bbc.co.uk), based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.



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