Legislators Seek to Protect Independent TV Broadcasts to China
Posted by Author on May 18, 2011
WASHINGTON—Lawmakers in the United States, Hong Kong, and Taiwan believe the Chinese Communist regime is responsible for a move that would potentially bar New Tang Dynasty (NTD) Television from broadcasting to mainland China. They are asking the government of Taiwan to act to protect press freedom.
In a letter to Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher wrote, “The democratic government of Taiwan should be encouraging the spread of ideas favoring freedom and traditional values across the strait.”
“If Taiwan does not support the struggle for freedom of thought within China, I see no need for America to support Taiwan,” continued Rep. Rohrabacher, chair of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation, and founder of the Taiwan Caucus.
The controversy arose when Chunghwa Telecom informed NTD Asia-Pacific (AP) on April 11 that it would not renew its satellite contract.
NTD AP is an affiliate of the New York-based nonprofit company, NTD Television.
“NTD AP is the only 24/7 media broadcasting uncensored news and information into China that is uninfluenced by Chinese Communist Party censorship,” said Mr. Samuel Zhao, VP of NTD New York in a telephone interview from the airport. Mr. Zhao was on his way to Taiwan to see how he could help NTD’s affiliate solve the crisis.
NTD has pointed to the likelihood of the Chinese regime having used a flurry of recent business deals as leverage to cut NTD’s voice in the region.
The Taiwan government has a controlling interest in Chunghwa—five of its nine directors and two of its three supervisors are also elected government officials.
Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va) is one of the lawmakers urging Taiwan to act on behalf of NTD AP. He told NTD’s Washington, D.C., affiliate, “I think that it is a very unfortunate development. NTD provides a very useful perspective and a window to the world for the Chinese people. Any suppression, and any chilling of the freedom of expression and the free flow of free thoughts diminishes democracy, and quite frankly is not in the long-term interests of China or of Taiwan.”
Congressman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) told NTD, “What you have in this example … is an attempt by a government to suppress free speech, [and] to suppress the ability of people to hear the truth. And we should be doing everything we can to overcompensate for that and find other ways to get that broadcast ability back on the air.”
Chunghwa claims their new and upgraded satellite, ST-2, does not have enough transponder space to carry NTD AP. ST-2 is scheduled to be launched in mid-May and will take the place of ST-1, which is currently broadcasting NTD AP’s programs into mainland China. NTD AP’s contract expires on Aug. 9.
NTD, as well as some opposition party Taiwan legislators, believe Taiwan’s largest state-owned telecommunications company, Chunghwa Telecom, isn’t telling the truth to NTD AP.
Mr. Tien Chiu-chin, a Taiwan legislator, in an interview with NTD raised doubts about Chunghwa’s explanation. “If you’re replacing satellites, the new one should be more technically advanced, and be able to host more channels. Why has its capacity shrunk? I cannot understand this at all. I believe if this is made public, no one in Taiwan would accept it,” he said.
Hong Kong legislators have also questioned Chunghwa’s explanation.
Chunghwa Telecom’s own press statement seems to contradict its explanation for ending NTD AP’s contract, “The expanded capacity and coverage of ST-2 … will further solidify Chunghwa Telecom’s leading market position.”
Besides broadcasting into China, Chunghwa’s satellite services also make the station’s TV signal available to customers in Taiwan. NTD’s ability to continue serving its customers is now in grave danger, the company’s top management says.
Stonewalled by Chunghwa, NTD has filed a complaint with the local industry regulator, the National Communications Commission. The commission has accepted the request to investigate whether the sudden service termination has violated any of Taiwan’s laws.
NTD’s broadcasts include straightforward reports on news, human rights abuses, and corruption in China that Chinese citizens would never hear from any other Chinese-language source.
This includes recent stories, such as the abduction and torture by Chinese authorities of prominent Chinese human rights lawyer, Gao Zhisheng—not covered by other Chinese media.
Accurate and truthful reports about Tibet, such as the recent election of a new prime minister by the Tibetan community in exile, are stories strictly censored by the Communist regime.
Mounting evidence suggests that Chunghwa Telecom is increasing economic ties with its neighbor, making the Taiwanese company increasingly beholden to China’s censorship demands.
The Dow Jones reported in February that Chunghwa Telecom and China’s largest communications service provider, China Telecom, had signed two agreements to share resources.
A statement released by Chunghwa Telecom said the two giants agreed to develop business opportunities in Taiwan’s Western Coast Economic Zone, “share network access, products, technology, and other resources, as well as cooperate on developing environmentally friendly business plans in China’s Fujian Province,” Dow Jones reported.
SinoCast Daily Business Beat issued a report out of Beijing May 10 that “Chunghwa Telecom Co. Ltd. is gearing up in the Chinese mainland value-added service market” cooperating with China Unicom “in fields of hardware and software.”
This is not the first time that NTD has encountered interference from the Chinese regime. It formerly broadcast into mainland China through the French satellite provider Eutelsat. In 2005, and again in 2008, French satellite provider Eutelsat suddenly refused to renew its contract or allow NTD to purchase its services.
During the first incident, 14 senators, including then-Sen. Barack Obama, and 93 representatives signed off on a letter to former President George Bush asking him to intervene on behalf of NTD.
“Unfortunately, Eutelsat, a Paris-based satellite company that transmits NTDTV over Asia, has apparently caved in to pressure from the Chinese government to stop beaming content that is uncensored and sometimes critical of the PRC,” stated the “Dear Colleague” letter.
The text of the final letter to the president reads as follows: “If NTDTV is silenced, it will enable one of the world’s worst violators of media freedom and human rights to re-establish full censorship over the broadcast information available to its citizens. In light of our nation’s pre-eminent role in promoting transparency, openness, and freedom overseas, the silencing of NTDTV’s broadcast to China is an unacceptable outcome.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), told NTD after learning about the broadcaster’s recent challenge in Taiwan, “The Chinese government, like lots of other governments that act repressively to suppress thoughts and political actions, will find that that is increasingly a difficult task, because the power of ideas and the ability of technology to transmit them universally cannot be stopped.”
Mr. Zhao said before catching his plane to Taiwan that while NTD is grateful for the U.S. support, NTD also hopes that the U.S. government can do more to help. He said, “A free press in Taiwan and in Asia is good for U.S. national interests.”
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