Patten attacks media kowtow to Peking

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The Independent Online
THE Governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, has made a thinly-disguised attack on media organisations which kowtow to China.

In words apparently aimed at the international publishers and broadcasters Rupert Murdoch and Ted Turner, he said it would be 'the most seedy of betrayals' to champion freedom of speech in one country 'but to curtail it elsewhere for reasons of inevitably short-term commercial expediency'.

Mr Murdoch, who owns the Hong Kong-based satellite broadcaster Star TV, has been accused of giving in to pressure from Peking to stop beaming BBC World Service Television (WSTV) to China. Under a deal announced last month, the Star satellite will cease broadcasting BBC news to northern Asia on 18 April, depriving Hong Kong and China of the service. The channel will be used instead for Chinese-language films, for which viewers will pay extra.

Although Star TV and WSTV presented the arrangement as a commercial one, Mr Murdoch had previously criticised the BBC for upsetting China and India. Faced with the probability that Star TV would have removed the service altogether at the end of this year, WSTV agreed a compromise which will preserve its broadcasts to the Indian subcontinent, where it has its biggest audience, at least until March 1996.

Phil Johnson, a WSTV spokesman, said the organisation was holding talks with several cable and satellite operators to regain its north Asian audience. China's dislike of foreign-news broadcasts had not been a problem so far in the negotiations.

Speaking in Tokyo this week, after meetings in Peking with Chinese broadcasting officials, Mr Turner dismissed concerns that his Cable News Network would compromise its coverage of China, but added: 'We are guests there, and we should respect that.'

He criticised American foreign policy, saying: 'I think the US government makes a mistake to try and tell so many other countries in the world what to do. I don't think that accomplishes much except to make other people unhappy.' His remarks were taken as referring to Washington's demands for China to improve its human-rights record.

Mr Patten, on a visit to Britain and Ireland, said in Dublin: 'Anyone who enjoys the privilege of publishing and broadcasting in open societies should demonstrate their unshakeable belief in the universality of free speech, should they ever seek to broadcast in societies that are closed . . . Would they accept the censor's scissors in Europe or North America?' Satellite broadcasters face attempts to control their activities in several Asian countries. Satellite dishes are restricted in Malaysia and banned in Singapore, which maintains tight controls on information. After a trial lasting several months, a Singapore judge yesterday imposed fines totalling USdollars 21,000 (pounds 14,000) on five journalists and economists for the publication of a leaked government economic estimate.

Under the city-state's draconian secrets act, the accused faced up to two years' jail. Although the Attorney- General, Chan Sek Keong, did not seek prison sentences, he told the court the prosecution was intent on limiting violation of the act, whose 'whole object . . . is to prohibit disclosure'.