A “cringing supplicant at the court of Beijing”

Rupert Murdoch and News Corp have had enormous trouble and spent billions of dollars trying to break into China’s television market. But doors are finally opening, thanks in part to his majority control of the National Geographic Channel.

“In China, we need licences to operate. We still have many channels that we haven’t had the chance to introduce to Chinese viewers,” Tsai, who is also the general manager for China and Taiwan at Fox International Channels, told Reuters by telephone. … 

Despite China’s massive population and strong domestic demand, Fox International sees more conservative numbers for the market due to limitations posed by strict regulations.

In China, which regulates content from foreign cable operators that it deems inappropriate for its citizens, Fox International’s National Geographic and Star Movies channels can largely be accessed in hotels of three-stars and above.

China’s TV stations are mainly state-owned, with operators such as CCTV providing programmes ranging from news and talk shows to home-made soap operas and variety shows.

Fox International has already begun rolling out programmes that cater to Chinese tastes, such as “China To The World,” a series of documentaries jointly produced by National Geographic and CCTV that features Chinese culture and life. … 

Read the whole thing here.

Here’s a partial summary of News Corp’s China adventure to date, courtesy of Jonathan Manthorpe of the Vancouver Sun:

…Murdoch’s attempt to get into the Chinese television market started badly.

When he bought the Hong Kong-based Star TV satellite service in 1993 he proclaimed in a speech brimming with hubris that this medium would be “an unambiguous threat to totalitarian regimes everywhere.”

But Murdoch had already been taken for a ride. He bought Star TV for more than $500 million from Richard Li, son of Hong Kong’s tycoon of tycoons, Li Ka-shing.

News Corporation's Rupert Murdoch speaks at a panel discussion during the 2011 Shanghai International Film Festival. Source: AP

Somehow in the excitement of making the deal it failed to get mentioned that Star TV’s output in China was totally pirated and there was no income.

Within a month, Beijing made clear its view of Murdoch and his crusade to bring the light of open information and ideas into the dark corners of China’s authoritarianism.

The ownership of private satellite dishes was banned.

The speed with which News Corp. changed tack and became a cringing supplicant at the court of Beijing was astonishing.

Murdoch sold the Hong Kong newspaper, the South China Morning Post, to a pro-Beijing Malaysian businessman, who has tempered its previously vigorous coverage of China.

Murdoch’s book publishing subsidiary, HarperCollins, produced a biography of China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping written by his daughter – and business tycoon – Deng Rong.

And to reinforce his new attitude toward Beijing, Murdoch ordered HarperCollins to back out of a contract to publish the memoirs of Hong Kong’s last governor, Chris Patten, an account that was bound to anger the Chinese government.

In 1994 Murdoch went further. The man who only a year before extolled the reforming influence of free information took the BBC News out of the Star TV satellite package because it was causing too much friction with Beijing.

A couple of years later Beijing apparently considered that Murdoch was now suitably submissive.

And in 1998, National Geographic Asia — which is majority owned by News Corp — opened for business.

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