Xi'an pirate TV station shut down

Taking down the sign for Shuangqiao TV.
China Business View reported last week on the shutdown of a television station run by the village of Shuangqiaotou in Xi'an. Shuangqiaotou is an "urban village" (城中村), a former rural area that the expanding metropolis has absorbed haphazardly, presenting a host of problems to urban adminstrators and planners.

The village leadership intended the television station to be a communication tool, a way to entertain village residents while publicizing information from the government and party. But state regulations have not caught up with such technological innovations; operation of television station is forbidden for governments below the county level. From CBV:

An expert from the [Shaanxi] provincial Academy of Social Sciences, a village-run TV stations is a novel thing in the development of the new countryside. It's an exploration, a new experiment. Although it conflicts with state policy, government departments could provide reasonable guidance to absorb it into the building of socialist spiritual civilization; with proper oversight, there would be no problem with having it serve as a basic-level way to publicize policy.

Wang Zhengbo, who works in grass-roots spiritual civilization development at the Xi'an Municipal Civilization Office, said he had never encountered such circumstances in the past, but affirmed that they were correct in spreading correct social trends; in publicizing state policy at the same time they enriched the lives of the villagers. The Civilization Office could provide guidance, but the village committee would be responsible for the specifics of broadcasting and operation. They currently donate books and a/v materials to grass-roots rural cultural offices, but cable TV broadcasting has not yet been brought under the purview of cultural offices; there are other departments in charge of that.

Here's a translation of CBV's highly melodramatic story of the rise and fall of Shuangqiao TV:

A village-run TV station in Xi'an is shut down

by Liu Lichun / CBV

To bring stories about the lives of common people to the screen, the village committee of Shuangqiaotou Village, Dianzicheng Subdistrict, Yanta District, Xi'an, financed a village television station. Shuangqiao News, Voices from the Streets, and Life Hints were programs that the villagers enjoyed. Yesterday [28 April], because this violated state regulations, the station stopped broadcasting after operating for over two months. Liu Jun, head of the village committee, wept; perhaps only he knew just how difficult this was.

Popular reactions
Halted after just two months

Yesterday afternoon, after obtaining the public's reaction, Jing Yi, head of the Facilities and Technology Office of the Xi'an Broadcasting and Television Bureau, notified the Shuangqiao Television Station, which had been in operation for more than two months, saying that because it did not have the necessary qualifications to run a TV station, it was commanded to stop broadcasting. Jing Yi said that the intentions of Shuangqiao TV were good - publicizing national policy, promoting a healthy city, and advocating conservation are all positive actions that carry forward the "main theme" in society, but they still go against national policy. He said that according to Article 10 of the Television Broadcast Management Regulations, radio and TV stations are to be established by the radio and TV administrative departments of people's governments at the level of counties and unsubdivided cities or higher, and educational television stations are to be established by the educational administrative departments of people's governments at the level of subdivided city and autonomous county or higher. Other work units or individuals may not set up radio and television stations.

Station operating procedure
An opening ceremony was held in the village

Liu Junli, 45 years old this year, is head of the Shuangqiaotou village committee. After assuming the post in October 2005, he discovered that the education level of the villagers and cadres could be improved; Shuangqiaotou Village awaited development, which required that national and party policies be properly publicized. At first, he used the village loudspeaker to transmit information to the villagers, but because the buildings were getting ever taller in the village, many people were unable to hear the contents of the broadcast message.

Later, Liu Junli thought that putting national and party policies, the work of the village committee, and stories concerning the common people onto the screen would work better. After he had this idea, at a village committee meeting at the end of 2005, Liu Junli suggested starting a television station, which immediately received everyone's agreement. He then found someone to write up a proposal for the subdistrict office and to enter the television station into Shuangqiaotou's 2006 work outline. At the end of 2006, under the guidance of people in the industry, Shuangqiaotou invested 40,000 yuan to prepare all of the equipment for the television station. After putting up a notice in the town, it recruited two news anchors, one program host, one cameraman and one editor. The position of station head was filled by village party secretary Liu Suizhu, village committee head Liu Junli acted as the director, and village vice-mayor Jia Deqian acted as assistant station manager.

On 15 February this year, Shuangqiao TV began test broadcasts. To let the villagers know the good news, Liu Suizhu and Liu Junli held an opening ceremony in the village. In no time at all, villagers were telling each other, "Our village has a TV station." Liu Junli said that in the four months since beginning preparations for the station, he never talked of salary with the workers; he originally thought that the village committee would contribute some, and advertising from restaurants in the village would also be taken in to sustain TV operations.

Broadcast content
Self-produced programs told village stories

On the program schedule for Shuangqiao TV, the reporter found that in addition to CCTV's Network News and prepackaged movies and TV programs, Shuangqiao TV also had its own self-produced programs with rich and varied content: Shuangqiao News, Voices from the Streets, Life Hints, and Shaanxi Opera.

News anchor Wu Qiong, from Luonan County, studied visual arts. After coming to Xi'an last year, he ran across a notice that Shuangqiaotou Village was looking for a news anchor, and he hurried to apply. Reportedly there were more than ten applicants in all who went through an interview with the village committee, and a simulated news interview and broadcast. Finally, Wu Qiong from Luonam and Jia Xuefang from Henan (the wife of a Shuangqiaotou resident) stood out from the rest; the village's own Fang Ping was selected to act as host of the Life Hints program.

In interviews, the villagers were intimately familiar with the Shuangqiao TV programs, and they all enjoyed Shuangqiao News, Voices from the Streets, and Life Hints. When someone's water wasn't turned off, the TV station would send a reporter to stealthily check it out and then expose this on the TV screen to increase everyone's awareness of conservation.

And because of the publicity the TV afforded, if you go to Shuangqiaotou Village, all villagers will be all able to tell you what problems Xi'an is facing in the building of a healthy city, and why a healthy city needs to be built. In addition, bits of knowledge like what fruits have used a swelling agent and which fruits you shouldn't buy were also found in Shuangqiao TV programs. With the TV station, the lives of the villagers were much richer.

In programs recorded for Shuangqiao TV there was a show like this: the cameraman found old village residents and had them tell stories of the history and present circumstances of Shuangqiaotou. Village committee head Liu Junli said that they prepared these visual records for the next generation; broadcasting them has great educational value to let the children of today and later on understand the history of Shuangqiaotou.

"It was almost vacation time, and many parents came to tell us to show some revolutionary era films for the kids," said Shuangqiao TV program host Fang Ping.

Liu Junli said had a Shaanxi opera troupe whose members and performances they put onscreen to develop Shaanxi opera and to see whether the performances came off good or bad. Everyone actively participated.

Through the circulation of reports on the village TV station over the course of more than two months, life in Shuangqiaotou Village experienced substantial changes.

After the broadcast halt
Workers have heavy hearts

Yesterday afternoon, at the village committee of Shuangqiaotou Village, Dianzicheng Subdistrict, Yanta District, Xi'an, the employees of Shuangqiao TV were in low spirits as they took down the television station's placard. "You could say that I arrived at this day watching the TV station," said Wu Qiong, who wrote out his own script before each news broadcast. During the broadcast, he and the female anchor took turns holding up cue cards for each other. Thinking of this, he felt sad.

"The villagers determined whether the programs were good or bad," said Life Hints host Fang Ping. She graduated from the English department of a private university and joined the group when she saw the village was starting a TV station. Over several months, even though no one knew how much their salaries would be, they all worked happily. Cameraman Liu Hongquan was also visibly unhappy.

Most grieved at the shutting down of the station was village committee head Liu Junli. He said that ever since taking up his post in 2005, he felt that the burden he shouldered was very heavy. He felt that to change the developmental conditions of the countryside, you first have to change your ideas. He said that the establishment of a television station gave the villagers a platform for communication. Villagers were reporters, villagers were newsreaders, happy news from the village was shown on screen - this was a way to entertain themselves. He said that he had the village party secretary act as station head at first because he felt that they could not leave the leadership of the party. Every program, in addition to passing review by himself and the station manager, also had to pass inspection by the secretary of the village party branch, so absolutely no problems would occur.

Administrative departments
Privately established TV stations not permitted

"The TV station was shut down? How could that be?" Bringing up the TV station shutdown yesterday afternoon in Shuangqiaotou Village, villagers felt that it was very sudden. "The everyday information on the TV was stuff that's with us all the time. Lots of life problems had answers here," said one villager.

"I brought up this television station on my own, so if it's really shut down, I'll be very disappointed," said Liu Junli as his tears flowed, not only for the TV station, but for the difficulties he faced in accomplishing basic-level work.

"I hope that the government can bring this TV station under their oversight and let it continue to develop; to have made it to this day is no small thing, and the villagers really liked it," Liu Junli said. And at this point, Wu Qiong sighed heavily watching his news program, because he did not know whether he would be able to sit in that seat again to broadcast those news items that caught the attention of the public.

Reportedly, entertainment options in these urban villages are in short supply. Apart from health clubs and senior activity centers, there are only mahjong halls set up. "It'd be a pity if it's really taken away, since a bare loudspeaker is not enough," said Liu Junli.

Jing Yi, head of the Facilities and Technology Office of the Xi'an Broadcasting and Television Bureau, said that there are many ways to publicize party and state policies and enrich the cultural lives of the people - it doesn't need to be through TV. Privately setting up a TV station is absolutely forbidden by the state.

* * *

CBV's follow-up the next day reported that the Shuangqiao TV studio had been completely dismantled, and confirmed that the station itself was in violation of state regulations:

The reporter learned from SARFT yesterday that TV stations may not be set up below the county level. Special circumstances - for the army, vocational schools, and factories or mining enterprises - are granted permission as cable TV stations. Remote mountain areas unreachable by broadcast or cable TV signals can have village-run cable TV stations approved according to their circumstances. That is to say, Shuangqiaotou Village is qualified for neither broadcast nor cable TV stations.

Shuangqiaotou Village party secretary Liu Suizhu said that the policies naturally must be respected, but a village TV station, with good people and good things, good sons and wives right beside them, lets villagers feel that they can "reach out and touch them," and brings a feeling of intimacy.

"Even if the TV station cannot continue, we will voice our concerns to the government; this, at least, is necessary for the building of a new socialist countryside," said Liu Suizhu.

A commenter on Xici's Yi Zhao Media Study Group board remarked that the law seems to work against the interests of the people:

Many things in China have no cause - you can't explain them, or you do not want to explain them.

Something like this - essentially the common people, idle with nothing to do, start a TV station for their own amusement. Is that wrong? On your own, using your own sense of judgment, you can find the answer.

Why was it banned? The higher-ups said rule of law.

Nevertheless, if this law brings grief to the common people and chokes reasonable people with rage, then dammit it's not a good law! There seem to be lots of these laws in China right now. But I cannot deny that has no good laws. Certainly there are, but they are never enforced very well.

Things fall into another vicious cycle: good laws aren't enforced, but bad laws persist on without revision.

In this particular case, the villagers financed and ran their own small-scale "TV broadcast station" (a netizen recommended that instead of "Shuangqiao TV station" (双桥电视台) they call it "Shuangqiao TV broadcast station" (双桥电视广播站) to avoid management by the authorities), and the writing, reporting, production, and broadcasting were all managed by the villagers. The wealth of idle manpower no longer had to chat while playing mahjong; rather, it they could indulge in the interests of the "literati." From the program list of Shuangqiao TV, we see that Shuangqiao News and Voices from the Streets are true portraits of rural life; even though they are a bit rough and unprofessional, it is these very qualities that give them more value as news. So no wonder the secretary wept tears of sorrow when he heard that the station was closed down.

Lu Xinfu, an academic at Jiangsu Radio and Television University, wrote in a blog post that the state regulation barring low-level governments from running TV stations may violate the constitution:

2. On the issue of the law itself: who is violating the law and the regulations?

Freedom of speech and of the press is a basic right granted to the broad masses of the people by the Constitution of the People's Republic of China. But how are these rights, granted to the broad masses of the people, guaranteed? I won't speak now of the measures for the guarantee, but rather, I will look at the reasons for shutting down the Shuangqiaotou Village, Xi'an, TV station that carried forward the "main theme":

Article 10 of the Television Broadcast Management Regulations: "Radio and TV stations are to be established by the radio and TV administrative departments of people's governments at the level of of counties and unsubdivided cities or higher, and educational television stations are to be established by the educational administrative departments of people's governments at the level of subdivided city and autonomous county or higher. Other work units or individuals may not set up radio and television stations." That is to say, a local village-level government is not qualified and does not have the right to make use of TV news media because its administrative level is too low.

It is obvious that the rules in Article 10 of the Television Broadcast Management Regulations violate the rights granted all citizens in the Constitution, and violates the equality granted to all citizens under the law. So I ask, why has a law that is so obviously in violation not been promptly rescinded or revised? Why have these unconstitutional rules been used instead to call a halt to the innovative measures of these villagers that are beneficial to the country and its people?

It is obvious that this village TV station is exercising the proper rights granted to it under the constitution, but the regulation is not only improper but also illegal - it violates the basic national law in the Constitution.

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There are currently 4 Comments for Xi'an pirate TV station shut down.

Comments on Xi'an pirate TV station shut down

oh, that is so sad for the village of shuangqiao.
did it say how many viewers they had?

on cable back in the US, there is always a channel or two dedicated given to local programming -- public access, PSA announcements, locally-produced shows. these channels are also broadcast at the 'county' level only I believe, although content is often specific to a smaller area.

is there any dialogue with SARFT or local authorities about what other avenues the villagers can pursue to legally reconnect with their community? (other than the ever helpful propaganda slogan...)

maybe they can produce a show or a series of shows that can run on Xi'An TV...

I am very sad to hear this .

If they are really committed, maybe they can try Podcasting or use YouTube. The road to Rome are many. Of course, the audience might be of a different kind then.

It's about control. China technically has many freedoms, but all are limited because the Party does not want the people to be able to do as they please.

This TV station, as innocent as its broadcasting probably was, was outside the Party's control mechanisms. Having a low-level official screen programming isn't the same as having powerful censors checking every little detail, having regular meetings where news "helpful" to the government is promoted and "unhelpful" reports are ignored, etc. Closing this place down was rather ridiculous, but officials often only care about their ability to control things.

Also, and maybe this is rather cynical, the villagers said this was about communication. Maybe the government doesn't want them to be able to communicate efficiently, because that gives them power. Today it's their village, tomorrow the next village, a town, etc. The last thing they want is people feeling they can manage their own affairs. No, best to force everyone to use State media, because the State knows best....... :(

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