Xinhua Article Questions Lack of Enforcement of Satellite Reception Censorship Regulations

December 6, 2004

An article in the "Economic Information News" reports how easy it is to get a private satellite dish installed in Beijing, despite their being illegal. The article claims that the dangers of not enforcing laws against the installation of private satellite dishes include piracy, smuggling, uneven pricing, and fraud, and concludes by calling for more strict enforcement of the laws.

But a lack of law enforcement is not the cause of the problems cited in the article. Rather, the underground market that the author criticizes results directly from the Chinese government's censorship policies. To control the flow of news to the Chinese people from satellites, whose signals authorities are unable to block (as they do with the Internet), the Chinese government bans private satellite dish ownership. Were the government’s primary concerns about piracy and fraud, the appropriate policy response would be regulation, not a complete ban on private ownership.

The article notes, for example, that under the "Measures on the Administration of Foreign Satellite Television Channel Reception," the government must approve installation of all satellite dishes. The article does not mention, however, that the reason for this restriction is that the Chinese government is primarily interested in censoring news. Article 7 of the Measures states: " . . . in principle, no foreign satellite television news channels shall be approved to be distributed domestically . . . ." Moreover, only foreign companies "friendly towards China" are granted permission to have their satellite broadcasts received in China (see Article 5 of the Measures).

The government's policy of controlling the content of satellite news broadcasts is evident in other regulations as well:

Notice Regarding Strengthening the Administration Work of Provincial Level Television Satellite Program Channels:

1. Satellite television channels shall strictly observe propaganda requirements, and firmly observe correct guidance of public opinion. With respect to reports on important events, breaking stories and other sensitive issues, they must obey the integrated dispositions of the local party committee Propaganda Departments, and strictly abide by Party discipline.

More Chinese laws relating to censorship are available here.