Satellite link

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 April, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 April, 2003, 12:00am

The two television wires hung out of a box on the wall of my apartment building. One carried the signal from foreign satellite channels and the other ran into the television.

I nudged Mr Liu from the cable television firm, a bag of tools hanging over his shoulder, and asked if he could connect the two.

'No, sorry. That is not my job,' he said politely but firmly.

'Come on, it would just take two seconds. No one would know.'

'Not in the scope of my job.'

'Would 200, 300 yuan (HK$190-$280) help?'

'No.' Mr Liu was right. He works for the cable and not the satellite company, and the question of who has the right to watch satellite, and which channels, is a sensitive matter which could, in an extreme case, cost him his job.

In the high-class hotels and apartment blocks built for foreigners, the issue is clear. Their televisions carry many foreign stations, including CNN, the BBC, Star Sports, NHK, TV Cinq, Deutsche Welle, Phoenix and film channels like HBO.

Buildings for ordinary Chinese are not allowed to carry foreign channels but people can watch more than 30 domestic land and satellite stations, including those from Shanghai, Beijing and other parts of China.

The grey area comes in buildings with some foreign tenants or with Chinese rich and well connected enough to want to see outside channels. My block falls into this category.

'BBC and CNN are too sensitive,' said the building manager. 'They carry material on Falun Gong and Taiwan. The government does not like it.'

So my building offers four satellite stations: TV Cinq, Phoenix, Star Sports and Hollywood, a film channel.

In a nearby restaurant, I asked one middle-aged man what he watched at home. 'Taiwan channels, of course,' he replied with a laugh. 'They report the truth about the mainland and carry negative news. I like their dramas too. I paid money to the satellite men, who made the necessary adjustments.'

He showed me handbills with advertisements that offer installation of up to 39 satellite channels - including ones carrying pornographic films - for between 3,600 and 22,000 yuan. 'It is all illegal, of course. But nothing will happen unless your neighbours rat on you.'

So we rang two of the companies listed. 'We have so much business we can barely keep up with demand,' said a man at one. 'We do installations every day and more on weekends.

'Yes, it is illegal but enforcement of the ban requires the co-operation of three government departments - the tax bureau, the film and broadcasting bureau and the audiovisual products bureau - and this is rare. Last year we had a crackdown during one of the campaigns against Falun Gong and some movement this year around March 15, Consumer's Day, but they did not last long. There is basically no problem. Shanghai is too big.' He offered to install both Chinese and foreign channels for 10,000 yuan.

The second company said the regulations on installing satellites were not clear. 'If a private person does it, there is no problem. We install about 200 in Shanghai a year.' The man said that four Taiwan companies controlled and managed the installation of such satellites in Shanghai. 'Whatever you want to see, you can.'