China Signal Ban Tied to Political Climate


China's crackdown on foreign satellite-TV providers is
directly linked to the heightened political climate before two highly sensitive
anniversaries, according to industry observers.

The government's sentiment that prompted the directive
is similar to the sentiment that incited anti-Western demonstrations after NATO bombs
destroyed part of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

In a development related to the bombing, MTV has
indefinitely postponed transmission of the "CCTV-MTV Music Honors," jointly held
in Beijing May 7 with China Central TV.

A Western media consultant in Beijing said the 10th
anniversary of the government crackdown on Tianamen Square protesters June 4, 1989, and
the upcoming 50th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China Oct.
1 have ramped up Chinese sensibilities. These were increased by the Belgrade bombing, he

The consultant, who requested anonymity, said he believed
the crackdown was not likely to be lifted before the end of the year.

He added that hard-line ideologues within the government
had gained the upper hand over their technocrats. In other words, those favoring the
opening of China's borders to outside media sources were taking second place to those
opposed to any concessions to the West.

The crackdown on transmissions of satellite-delivered
programming beyond Chinese borders had been signaled several weeks in advance and
anticipated by some Western media executives.

The main casualty of the crackdown on unlicensed dishes was
Phoenix Channel, a China-directed joint venture between Star TV and two Hong Kong-based
Chinese companies, which had claimed that 45 million households were able to pick up its
free-to-air signal.

Chinese authorities said the removal of unlicensed dishes
is merely an implementation of a 1994 executive-level order.

A Star TV source said Phoenix Channel's news programs
switched to a hostile stance against NATO within one day of the embassy bombing, in a bid
to deflect the effects of the crackdown. Officially, the company said it is "still
assessing" developments.

The offensive against dishes has not translated into an
order for cable operators to remove all Western programming from their schedules. Several
networks -- including Discovery Channel, ESPN and MTV -- are carried through excerpt
agreements by cable operators. At press time, it was unclear how many, if any, of
China's 800 officially recognized operators had removed overseas programming.

MTV's office in Hong Kong issued a statement saying
that CCTV had "advised" and "recommended" that the Music Honors show
be postponed "until the situation stabilized" because of "the recent
incident at the Chinese embassy in Belgrade."