BBC looks for satellite link

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 August, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 August, 1994, 12:00am

THE BBC is believed to be again preparing to beam its television news bulletins into China - and therefore Hong Kong - by satellite.

BBC World Service Television was axed from STAR-TV this year. The station's owner, Rupert Murdoch, who wants to expand satellite TV into China, said he had dropped the BBC because of Chinese objections.

Any early action by the BBC which does not meet with Chinese Government approval could lead to further tension in Sino-British relations over Hong Kong.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post, the deputy director-general of the BBC, Bob Phillis, refused to rule out ignoring Chinese opposition to its service.

Mr Phillis said the BBC would prefer its television news service to be welcomed by the Chinese Government.

''China is important to us and we look to co-operate with the Chinese Government to find a way of providing a satisfactory service,'' Mr Phillis said.

''What we cannot accept is a censorship or vetoing of the news bulletins which carry the BBC name, because that is something in terms of our reputation as a news organisation in radio and television around the world over which we will not compromise,'' he said.

Mr Phillis did not go into detail about when or how the BBC might secure re-entry to China via satellite. But he said: ''I think that depends entirely upon the opportunities, as and when they arise, and what we are seeing in the next 12 to 24 months is the launching of a considerable number of satellites over that part of the world, which would allow a signal to be transmitted into China.

''We will have to see what opportunities arise and when it is right and proper for us to do so.'' He said British diplomats were not directly involved in any discussions about BBC re-entry.

''We do our best to maintain the best possible relations with all governments around the world. As you would expect we maintain a dialogue with their embassy in London and our professional colleagues in China. We would like to find ways of reintroducing a service into China.

''Time will tell as to when and how that is appropriate. But it is certainly something that we seek to aspire to once again,'' said Mr Phillis.

BBC World Service Television was sent to the mainland from November 1991 via the AsiaSat satellite which covers China, Taiwan and Korea.

The service also goes to the whole of Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East on an east-west satellite beam.

The then owners of STAR had a mutual opt-out clause which was exercised by the Murdoch organisation when it bought out Hutchison Whampoa last year.

Mr Phillis said he understood from reports of statements by Mr Murdoch and Chinese officials that the BBC service had been dropped for commercial and political reasons.

''I think it is clear there has been some unease in China about our reporting of Tiananmen Square and the dissident movement that existed within China and obviously negotiations over the future of Hong Kong remain sensitive issues.

''I think that the much-publicised reaction toward our domestic documentary programme covering the life and history of a great Chinese leader in modern history, Mao Zedong, had elements which received some unfavourable comment from China.

''Not I should say [those aspects of Mao's personal life] that the BBC invented or claimed to have uncovered, but which Mao Zedong's personal physician had written about in a book published elsewhere,'' said Mr Phillis.