Murdoch wins clearance for Star TV China expansion

MUMBAI: Rupert Murdoch may be having problems getting clearance for his Star News and DTH projects in India but in China he appears to be making major gains. Relative to the context of the media closet house that China is, it needs noting, which is not really saying much.

The media tycoon's Star TV has won approval for a big expansion in China, which brings Murdoch another step closer to achieving his ambition of broadcasting Chinese-language programmes across the Communist state.

Star TV has been given permission to beam Xingkong Weishi, its Mandarin language entertainment channel, to all hotels above three stars and into residential compounds where foreigners and overseas Chinese live, the Financial Times has reported. News Corp has said it plans to invest well over $100 million in the channel over the next three to four years.

The channel is currently restricted to a tiny area in the southern province of Guangdong, where its satellite signals are piped by a local cable TV company to about 1 million viewers. It will now be able to reach about 500,000 hotel rooms as well as foreign communities, including 250,000 Taiwanese living in and around Shanghai, China's biggest city and commercial hub.

The approval signals acceptance by Beijing of the programmes that Star has tailor-made for Xingkong Weishi since it was launched in March last year.

Star TV was the first foreign television company to win the rights to broadcast into China, along with AOL Time Warner, which also gained permission to launch a channel in a limited area in Guangdong.

The FT report says it is not clear whether AOL Time Warner, with its 24-hour Mandarin language entertainment channel CETV, has also won approval for a nationwide "footprint".

Murdoch has stayed the course on his China vision for over a decade now despite an excruciatingly slow opening up on the part of Beijing of its airwaves. To curry favour with the authorities in China, Murdoch was willing to drop a BBC news channel's satellite delivery into China. He also vetoed News Corp's plans to publish a book by Chris Patten, the last colonial governor of Hong Kong, who irked China's top officials in the run-up of the handover of Hong Kong to China with his strong espousal of democratic principles. It's another matter of course that Patten's discovery of the virtues democracy for the colonial outpost smacked of political opportunism, coming as it did at the fag end of Britain's rule there.

It is the same dogged patience Murdoch has shown in his dealings with China that in all probability will see his Star News as well as DTH plans ultimately taking off in India.

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