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Is Phoenix Spreading Its Wings For The Party?

Chinese media observers were caught by surprise recently when a Hong Kong-based TV station aired a program blasting Falun Gong, a meditation practice subject to relentless persecution by the Chinese Communist regime. This article digs into the details of the connection between Beijing and Phoenix TV.

Phoenix TV: an investigative report

Chinese media observers were caught by surprise recently when Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television aired a program [1] on March 4 blasting Falun Gong, a meditation practice based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. Falun Gong was outlawed in 1999 and has since been subjected to relentless persecution by the Chinese Communist government. [2] The state media in Mainland China has stopped criticizing Falun Gong or reporting any Falun Gong related news for the past a few years, making Falun Gong disappear from Chinese news. A new attack toward Falun Gong by an overseas Chinese media is viewed as unusual.

Who is behind Phoenix Television? What influence does Phoenix TV have on the Chinese people?

Mission and Target Audience

Phoenix Satellite Television Holdings Limited (SEHK Stock Code: 8002) is a Hong Kong-based television broadcaster whose mission is “ to promote a free flow of information and entertainment. ” [3]

According to Liu Changle, CEO and Chairman of Phoenix, it is “a TV broadcaster that is different from mainland channels, different from Hong Kong channels, and also different from those in Taiwan. Phoenix seeks to transcend the various components of Greater China and offer Chinese viewers a media service that is global in outlook and independent of local political attachments.” [3]

Yet, Phoenix states, “Very few Hong Kong citizens watch Phoenix.” [4] It broadcasts in Mandarin while Hong Kong residents speak Cantonese and English. Its programs are designed for Mainland and Taiwan audiences, specifically targeting the educated Chinese professional. [5]

Phoenix was established on March 31, 1996 by Liu Changle’s Today’s Asia and Murdoch’s News Corporation, each with holdings of 45%. The company had its Initial Public Offering in 2000. Presently, Phoenix is listed on the Hong Kong Growth Enterprise Market (GEM) of the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong, Ltd.

Shareholders of Phoenix TV
 Today’s Asia, Ltd.  37.5%
 China Mobile (Hong Kong) Group, Ltd.  19.9%
 Xin Kong Chuan Mei Group Co., Ltd.  17.6%
 China Wise International, Ltd.  8.3%
 Public  16.7%

Liu Changle and Phoenix

Liu Changle, the son of a senior Communist official, is a native of Shanghai. At 19, he joined the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and was a low level Political Commissar in Shenyang, China. He was dishonorably discharged from the PLA. After graduating from Beijing Broadcasting Institute, he was assigned as a reporter for the military channel of China Central People’s Radio Station in Beijing and was later promoted by the late 1980s to colonel of the PLA’s General Political Department.

His ties to the Chinese military, particularly his good personal relationship with Yang Shangkun, former Vice Chair of the Party’s Military Committee, have led to speculation that Phoenix was funded and is controlled by the Chinese military. At a dinner table in 1998, Liu reportedly confided that the State Security Ministry gave him $2 million as initial capital for Phoenix. [6] His initial funding sources also included proceeds he made from the trading of petroleum, a substance controlled by the State, with the help of State Security friends. The media reported that Phoenix received funding from the Funding Bank of China and China Construction Bank, both State banks.

In addition to funding, Liu clearly had connections with CCTV. In 1993, Liu was given the honor of investing in a 12-hour documentary on the life of Deng Xiaoping produced by CCTV. It was unheard of for a private businessman to participate in such a politically sensitive project. Liu was listed in the credits as a producer. In 1995, he gifted a 10% interest in Phoenix to CCTV. [7] “It was a symbolic gesture to show we wouldn’t oppose the Communist Party,” Liu said in an interview with the Washington Post in 2005.

Liu’s senior management team, according to corporate Chinese and English language websites, includes executives with stellar backgrounds in business and education in the West. [8] Many former high-level Chinese government officials hold key management positions. [9] Liu also surrounds himself with well-connected people like Wu Xiaoyang, as his Director of Business Development and the son of former Chinese foreign minister and vice premier Wu Xueqian.

Phoenix announced in 2006 that it would move its headquarters to Beijing after a strategic cooperation agreement was signed between Phoenix TV and the Chaoyang District Government in Beijing. [10] It is unknown what motivated the move, whether to stay close to the Party or to take advantage of a cheaper office. Since May 2006 the Hong Kong government has licensed Phoenix as a non-domestic television program service.

News Content

Critics have maintained that Phoenix has always followed the Party line and its content has closely followed the positions of the spokespersons of the State Council and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It has followed the Party line so closely that in 1998 Premier Zhu Rongji told the press he watched Phoenix news every day and asked the press to take care of Wu Xiaoli, a newscaster at Phoenix. President Hu Jin Tao praised Phoenix reports on the Iraqi war and SARS. [11]

How did Phoenix report on these two international stories?

At the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, Phoenix TV reported that the U.S met with strong resistance in Iraq. Professor Wu Guoguang from the University of Victoria, Canada, was in Hong Kong at that time. He watched Phoenix TV’s Iraq news report in Mandarin about the resistance U.S. forces faced, only to later find out from a Hong Kong newspaper about the landslide surrender of Iraqi solders. [12] At a time when Mainland Chinese have lost confidence in the credibility of State media, this is increasingly troublesome. Professor Wu called his friends in Mainland China about the surrender of Iraq soldiers. None knew about it. They told him that they do not watch CCTV and only watch the “overseas” Phoenix.

As for SARS, Phoenix was said to be one of the few media that Dr. Jiang Yanyong contacted during the 2003 SARS epidemic cover up by the Chinese government.

Perhaps Dr. Jiang Yanyong made the reasonable assumption that Phoenix, as a foreign media outlet, was more likely to broadcast the news, yet Phoenix did not break the news to its Chinese audience.

To be consistent with the State’s position on Taiwan, Phoenix added new programs in 2004 with pro-China anchors from Taiwan such as Li Ao, Sisy Chen, and Jaw Shau-kong.

“There may be some things we can’t report, but we won’t tell lies,” Liu Changle said in a 2005 interview with the Washington Post. [13]

On July 20, 1999, the State announced the crackdown on Falun Gong, a meditation practice based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. Two days later, CCTV began to broadcast an anti-Falun Gong program entitled “About Li Hongzhi. ” On July 24 1999, Phoenix TV aired its own anti-Falun Gong production, a 140-minute television program. [14] Entitled “A Devastative Exposure of Falun Gong,” its content was based on and very similar in nature to the State’s CCTV’s program “About Li Hongzhi.”

Phoenix TV also created its own anti-Falun Gong web page entitled “Dissecting and Analyzing Falun Gong.” [15] Between July 1999 and January 2000 more than 155 anti-Falun Gong articles appeared on this page, many directly from State official sources like the People’s Daily, CCTV, and Xinhua. Further, the Phoenix website was quickly linked to the Chinese Communist Youth League as a China Anti-Cult Web Site. [16]

As the persecution of Falun Gong has continued unabated in China, Phoenix aired another program on March 4, 2009 blasting Falun Gong.

State’s Preferential Treatment

There is limited information at Phoenix’s Chinese language site about its relationship with the Chinese government, but its English website is open and candid: “Phoenix has a good relationship with the PRC government.” [17]

For example, Phoenix InfoNews Channel, a 24/7 news channel, was launched on January 1, 2001. China’s State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT) granted InfoNews Chinese landing rights in January 2003, making it the first foreign Mandarin-language news channel to receive such permission. With government help, it became the only broadcaster televising the weekly briefings of the State Council.

It is widely known in and outside China that the Chinese government exerts strong control over all domestic media. [18]

The revenue received as a result of the “good relations with the PRC” has been significant.
Its revenue in 2008 was 17.9% higher than the previous year, reaching approximately HK$1,392,059,000. Its flagship Chinese Channel (entertainment and information) and Phoenix InfoNews, both targeting Mainland Chinese, accounted for over 83.8 % of Phoenix’s overall revenue. [19]

With the revenue streaming in, Phoenix has not disappointed the Chinese regime.

Phoenix TV Channels

•    Phoenix Chinese Channel, launched on  March 31, 1996, one of the long-term foreign broadcasters in China.
•    Phoenix Movies Channel, launched on  August 28, 1998. It is now in its fifth year of operation as an encrypted pay-television service in China and worldwide.
•    Phoenix InfoNews Channel, launched on  January 1, 2001, a 24-hour news channel.
•    Phoenix North America Chinese Channel, launched on  January 1, 2001, which now broadcasts on both EchoStar and DirectTV satellite systems and shares the same programming with Phoenix Chinese News and Entertainment Channel.
•    Phoenix Chinese News and Entertainment Channel (also known as Phoenix CNE Channel), launched in August 1999, which is now a 24-hour channel based in London and broadcasting via satellite Eurobird 1 across Europe.

[1] The Epoch Times, March 7, 2009
[3] Website of Phoenix TV
[4] Website of Phoenix TV
[5] Website of Phoenix TV
[6] The Epoch Times, November 10, 2005
[7] The Epoch Times, November 9, 2005
[8] Website of Phoenix TV
[9] The Epoch Times, March 7, 2009
[10] Website of Phoenix TV
[11] Website of Phoenix TV
[12] Professor Wu was one of the key members for Zhao Ziyang, former Party Secretary General.
[13] Washington Post, September 19, 2005
[14] Beijing Youth Newspaper, July 31, 1999
Located through, an Internet library service that collects publicly available Web pages and provides free and open access to its collections to researchers, allowing access to documents that were, but no longer are, publicly accessible.
[16] Website of Chinese Communist Youth League
[17] Website of Phoenix TV
[18] Reports Without Borders
[19] Phoenix 2008 Annual Report,