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Wednesday, June 2, 1999 Published at 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK

China curbs satellite TV and Internet

Beijing fears criticism will penetrate through the media

By Peter Feuilherade of BBC Monitoring

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

The crackdown comes on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square killings of pro-democracy students in 1989.

At the end of April, the Beijing Daily newspaper 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.

International channels broadcasting from France, Italy, Spain and Germany have been interrupted for " maintenance" until 24 June.

On 2 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 3 June, CNN was due to broadcast a one-hour special programme on the 1989 crackdown.

Massive audience

[ image: The authorities are nervous about unauthorised coverage]
The authorities are nervous about unauthorised coverage
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.

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.

Tense climate

Representatives of 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 observers say the crackdown on foreign satellite TV providers is directly linked to the heightened political climate in China.

The Honk Kong Standard, on 27 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, saying 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".

Internet access

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

On Tuesday Reuters news agency reported that, 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 anti-government messages" .

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

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

It is thought that at least 6 million Chinese citizens have access to the Internet.

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