TV star woos the old men of China

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The Independent Online
SALLY WU XIAOLI, a television journalist, has made two important men very happy. The first is China's new Prime Minister, Zhu Rongji, who is now visiting London. He says he is an avid fan. Even happier is her ultimate boss, Rupert Murdoch, who has Ms Wu to thank for getting an official endorsement for his struggling Phoenix television station which broadcasts in China.

The endorsement came immediately after Mr Zhu was selected as China's prime minister two weeks ago. Spotting Ms Wu at an unusually relaxed press conference he declared: "I really enjoy watching her show." Sally Wu, not known for her reticence, gushed back: "Mr Zhu, I just want to tell you that you are my idol, too."

Only television could have brought together Ms Wu, who is from Taiwan, and the staunch Communist Party member Zhu Rongji. Ms Wu is beamed into Mr Zhu's home by satellite at 9pm when she hosts a daily current affairs programme, Asian Journal.

If Mr Zhu wants more of her he can catch the weekly Sally's Eye on the World, which airs on Sundays or a brief News Update, which also goes out every evening.

Ms Wu, who is based in Hong Kong, has been with Phoenix more or less since it started in 1996. Before joining the new channel she spent three years with Mr Murdoch's Chinese-language Star television service.

Though not well known in her home country of Taiwan, she is gaining fame in China where Phoenix claims to reach 36.2 million households. The news programmes it broadcasts are heavily self-censored, but they are still attractive to Chinese viewers accustomed to a diet of news served up by solemn presenters and shaky visual props.

And Ms Wu is far from solemn. She has a ready smile and draws heavily on her background in entertainment television to liven up the news. She is coy about her age and family background, but not averse to self-promotion. Famous for handing pictures of herself to other journalists, she was keen to present one to Mr Zhu who told her it "looks great".

Sally Wu is now gaining a reputation as one of the high-flyers in Chinese television. She managed to secure a rare exclusive interview with Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong's chief executive, and has set her sights on another exclusive with Zhu Rongji.

Her highly publicised encounter with the new prime minister will certainly do her no harm. The mainland Chinese media was restrained in reporting the Zhu-Wu mutual admiration society, but the Hong Kong media went to town on the story, raising her profile to near film-star levels. This is music to the ears of her bosses at Phoenix, a three-way joint venture company, with most of the programming provided by Mr Murdoch's Star TV.

Phoenix is yet to receive the status of being an officially approved broadcaster in China but has semi-official approval to air its programmes via satellite and cable. Ms Wu may have helped to push the new television station further along the regulatory road.