- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2001

BEIJING — China said yesterday that it is near a breakthrough agreement to allow direct foreign broadcasts into citizens' homes — if an English-language channel run by the Chinese government is disseminated across the United States.
Under the proposed deal, News Corp. and AOL Time Warner Inc. could broadcast programming to homes in parts of southern China.
In return, the two companies would ensure wide access to the United States for CCTV-9, which is part of China's main state television network, said a spokeswoman for the State General Administration of Radio, Film and Television.
Allowing one or both companies to broadcast directly to even limited Chinese audiences would be a breakthrough, though the government hasn't said just how much freedom News Corp. or AOL Time Warner would have.
China maintains strict controls on its media and is unlikely to allow unfettered access to its citizens. Its regulations bar foreign broadcasters from reaching Chinese audiences directly.
China's insistence on access for CCTV-9 reflects efforts to improve the government's image in the United States. "Many Chinese understand the United States, but Americans don't know much about China," said the spokeswoman, who wouldn't give her name.
News Corp.'s Asian subsidiary, Star, confirmed it was in "advanced discussions" with the Chinese government.
"China's increasing openness augurs well for the whole broadcasting industry," James Murdoch, Star's chairman and the youngest son of media magnate Rupert Murdoch, said in the statement. "We are hopeful that we can reach a positive conclusion soon and launch a new service."
CCTV-9 resembles what could happen if CNN, the Travel Channel and CNBC merged, then set up shop just off Tiananmen Square.
Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, said the Chinese shows would provide insight into another culture.
"But I'm not sure the best way for a mass audience to learn about China is through China State Television," he said, "just like it's not the best way for China to learn about the United States by watching reruns of 'Dallas' or 'Suddenly Susan.'"
American TV entered China in 1979, when the Chinese government bought "The Man From Atlantis."
These days, foreign programming is aired on state-controlled television, and some foreign channels including CNN are piped into luxury housing.
Any programming sent into China presumably would originate with China Entertainment Television, a Hong Kong operation run by TBS, a Time Warner division.
"The goal here is to get increased access in China," said AOL Time Warner spokeswoman Tricia Primrose.
If negotiations succeed, China intends to allow New York-based AOL and Sydney-based News Corp. to broadcast to households in Guangdong, a booming southern province near Hong Kong, the broadcast authority official said.
CCTV's presence in U.S. cable systems could send American programming into uncharted territory.
"There are issues that are far from subtle here that really need to be addressed," Mr. Thompson said. "What if AOL Time Warner had existed back in 1936 and made a deal with German state television? How many of those speeches would we have let play?"

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