Oct 092014

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
2007-10-05 08:47
2011-08-30 01:44
Embassy Beijing

DE RUEHBJ #6498/01 2780847
P 050847Z OCT 07



E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/06/2022

REF: FBIS/OSC CPP20070822710014

Classified By: Political Internal Unit Chief Dan Kritenbrink. Reasons
1.4 (b) and (d).


¶1. (C) China’s State Administration of Radio, Film,
and Television (SARFT) has been cracking down on
illegal satellite television since July 2007,
according to news reports. While police in several
cities are confiscating illicit receivers, enforcement
of China’s long-standing ban on private satellite
dishes is uneven. In Beijing, three satellite
installers tell us police are mainly turning a blind
eye, except when dishes point to satellites carrying
Falun Gong-related programming. Pirate satellite
hookups that can receive programming from Hong Kong,
Taiwan, the Philippines and Japan are readily
available in China’s capital for USD 300-500. No
accurate estimates exist for market penetration rates
of illegal satellite dishes, but one installer says
the number is “growing fast.” Contacts tell us that,
for now at least, the social impact of satellite
television is limited due to the lack of Mandarin
content. Nevertheless, one source warned against
underestimating satellite television’s significance,
calling illegal dishes an “uncontrolled window to the
outside world” that, unlike the Internet, remains
outside the control of Chinese officials. End

Pre-Congress Crackdown on Satellite TV

¶2. (U) China’s State Administration of Radio, Film,
and Television (SARFT) in July 2007 ordered a
nationwide crackdown on illegal foreign satellite
television, according to Hong Kong and foreign media
reports. The PRC-affiliated, Hong Kong-based Phoenix
TV is apparently the major victim. An article in the
August 26 edition of the Hong Kong magazine Yazhou
Zhoukan (see ref) describes how SARFT has forced many
local cable television systems to stop unauthorized
reception and retransmission of Phoenix, which, the
magazine says, has an estimated 200 million viewers in
Mainland China. On August 10, SARFT issued a
statement reiterating China’s policy that only hotels
rated at three stars and above can receive foreign
satellite broadcasts. In the statement SARFT denied
the crackdown was aimed at any one channel, a clear
reference to Phoenix.

¶3. (U) The SARFT crackdown also apparently extends to
individual satellite hookups. In July and August,
several city governments across China announced
campaigns to confiscate dishes and fine owners. An
August 27 Xinhua News Agency report on the anti-dish
campaign in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region specifically
linked the crackdown to “ensuring the successful
opening of the 17th Party Congress.” In Yangzhou,
Jiangsu Province, according to a July 29 domestic news
report, authorities offered a public reward of up to
RMB 5,000 (USD 670) in exchange for tips on the
location of illegal satellite equipment storehouses.
Other crackdowns have taken place in Liaoning
Province, Anhui Province, Guangdong Province and
Chongqing Municipality, among other areas.

But Dishes Still Easy to Get in Beijing

¶4. (C) Enforcement of SARFT’s rules against private
satellite receivers is hardly uniform. Three Beijing-
based dish installers told us authorities in the
capital are currently paying little, if any, attention
to illegal satellite television. Beijing-based
satellite installer Han Xiaolong (strictly protect)
told Poloff July 27 that the last major crackdown in
Beijing occurred in 2001 and 2002. Since then,
installers have had little to fear. Han said the only
close call he has encountered was in 2005 when
security guards at a housing community detained his
workers and threatened to call police. Han bribed
the guards RMB 5,000 (USD 670) to let his workers go.
Police, however, will take action if a dish is pointed
at a satellite known to carry Falun Gong programming,
Han said.

¶5. (C) Han described three categories of satellite

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service available to private dish owners:

— The first includes domestic programming (e.g., the
popular Hunan Satellite TV) that is carried on Chinese
satellites. Reception of domestic television via a
private, unauthorized downlink is technically illegal,
but the content is not threatening to authorities.
Han placed Phoenix in this category.

— Second is a Chinese government-run service for
star-rated hotels and foreign-only resident compounds.
This service is easily pirated, Han said, and includes
many English-language channels (e.g., HBO, CNN and
Discovery Channel). Much of the programming includes
Chinese subtitles and the Chinese government is able
to censor sensitive content via a 20-second delay.
Many hotels and compounds, Han claimed, are stealing
this service themselves to avoid paying the high fees.

— The third category includes foreign pirated
satellite services aimed at Hong Kong, Taiwan and
other East Asian markets. Mandarin-language Taiwan
channels are the most popular among Mainland Chinese
dish owners. The Philippines’ Dream TV is also widely
pirated in China even though most of its programming
is in English. Pornographic channels (from Taiwan,
Japan and Hong Kong) are also in very high demand, Han

Just a Phone Call Away

¶6. (C) While Han wins business by word-of-mouth, other
Beijing dish installers promote their services via
cell phone text messaging and makeshift roadside
advertisements. After receiving a text message August
12 touting satellite service, Poloff spoke to an
installer, surnamed Zhao, who quoted a price of RMB
2,800 (USD 370) to install a dish and decoder that
could receive “all the Taiwanese channels.” Zhao also
charges a RMB 450 (USD 60) yearly subscription fee to
reconfigure the decoder when the satellite services
periodically re-scramble their signals. Another
installer, surnamed Zhang, spray paints his cell phone
number on old, dented satellite dishes he then places
along busy roadways. Reached by phone, Mr. Zhang
offered Poloff a RMB 3,500 (USD 460) setup that could
receive Hong Kong, Taiwan and Philippine television
plus a wide array of adult channels. Both Zhao and
Zhang were dismissive of any possible police interest.
Zhang told Poloff September 26 that he had noticed no
tightening as a result of the upcoming 17th Party

How Many Dishes Are There?

¶7. (C) Few, if any, reliable estimates exist of the
prevalence of illegal satellite hookups in China. Han
said he believes less than 15 percent of Beijing
households have an illegal dish, but the market is
growing fast. According to a September 3 local news
report, in Fushun, Liaoning Province, a city of 1.3
million people, local authorities estimated that 3,000
to 4,000 households have an illegal receiver. Recent
data points like this, however, are few and far
between. Phoenix’s estimated 200 million viewers
gives a hint at the growing power of satellite
television, but most of this audience receives Phoenix
through local cable television service, not private
dishes. Victor Yuan, president of the polling firm
Horizon Research Consultancy Group, told Poloff that
he once attempted to conduct a poll on illegal
satellite reception but abandoned the project. Such
surveys cannot be accurate, Yuan said, because Chinese
are obviously reluctant to admit illegal activity to

Impact Limited…For Now

¶8. (C) Xu Fangzhou (protect), a professor at the
Communication University of China, told Poloff
September 11 that authorities tolerate illegal
satellite dishes because their societal impact is
still limited. The most popular satellite channel,
Phoenix, enjoys close connections to China’s
leadership and engages in self-censorship to maintain
a kind of “semi-legal” status in Mainland China. Xu
predicted recent SARFT actions against Phoenix will
not significantly curtail the channel’s long-term

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success in China. (Note: A television in the lobby of
Xu’s office building was tuned to Phoenix. Xu said
the University had been receiving Phoenix without
authorization for several years. Phoenix is also
available in the dorms of Qinghua University,
according to an Embassy contact there, and is received
in all high-level government compounds.) Aside from
Phoenix, Xu dded, dish owners generally watch non-
political Taiwanese entertainment shows.

¶9. (C) Han, the installer, however, warned against
underestimating satellite television’s significance.
Illegal dishes represent an “uncontrolled window to
the outside world” that, unlike the Internet, remains
outside the control of Chinese officials. Han told
Poloff many customers initially buy dishes for the
Taiwanese soap operas and porn but eventually become
interested in Taiwan’s uncensored news programs. Li
Xiaoping (protect), a producer for China Central
Television’s (CCTV) English-language Channel 9, told
Poloff that while CCTV already feels competition from
Phoenix, other illegal satellite services do not yet
present a real threat to CCTV. However, Li added,
leaders at China’s state broadcaster are concerned
that satellite TV will eventually challenge CCTV for

Comment: Content is King

¶10. (C) Though nothing to cheer about from the
standpoint of intellectual property rights, pirated
satellite television represents a growing chink in the
Chinese government’s information-control armor.
According to our contacts, English-speaking elites are
among the most enthusiastic consumers of personal
satellite receivers. Much of what is currently
available via-satellite, however, is in languages
incomprehensible to the average Mainland Chinese.
Taiwan news programs may be linguistically accessible,
but given the cultural and societal differences across
the Strait, they do not necessarily resonate with
wider Mainland audiences. As with the Internet,
Mainland Chinese seem primarily drawn to content
designed with them in mind, hence the success of



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