Phoenix television rises
By Tony Wong
Liu Changle--one of China's biggest tycoons
Is Liu Changle's real identity a spy from the Chinese military linked to a Chinese Intelligence network? It wouldn't be surprising as four senior Phoenix TV employees were charged with stealing military secrets in the US last year. Read more on this (at the end) and Phoenix TV's role in inciting hatred against Falun Gong in the excerpt below from The Real Story of China's Jiang Zemin - Chapter 13
Liu Changle, CEO of the Hong Kong-based Phoenix Satellite Television, was (or is) an undercover agent under the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the People's Liberation Army. 
After the April 25, 1999, Falun Gong gathering at Zhongnanhai, Liu was secretly sent by Luo Gan to collaborate with the pseudoscientist He Zuoxiu. Starting as early as May of 1999, Liu put forth a great deal of effort starting rumors and concocting TV programs specifically meant to frame Falun Gong and its founder. He also published a book expressly to discredit the founder of Falun Gong. Its contents would be almost humorous for their inaccuracy and perversity were the consequences not so regrettable. Phoenix TV disguised its connections with the CCP government by broadcasting popular programs that attracted regular viewers and, under the guise of normalcy, used reports that seemed objective to in fact spread Jiang Zemin's fabricated stories on Falun Gong and influence public opinion. Many of the station's viewers in mainland China and Chinese living overseas were sorely misled. After these things transpired, a number of staff from Phoenix TV ran into serious problems. Liu Changle was interrogated and investigated on grounds of reportedly having been part of the financial crimes of the former president of the Bank of China, Wang Xuebin, as well as other illegal activities; Zhao Liqun, deputy president of the station and the man responsible for Chinese-language programming, died in a plane crash; one of the station's hostesses was in a severe car accident; and a reporter from its news department was kidnapped."
TORONTO (Toronto Star) 18 Feb. 2006 - When Liu Chang Le first arrived in Canada in 1987, it was as a relatively lowly official of the Chinese government — a reporter for Beijing's central government radio station.
Fast forward 19 years and Liu is hosting an elegant dinner for more than 200 in the ballroom of Toronto's Fairmont Royal York Hotel. On his right is Chinese ambassador Lu Shumin. On his left is Toronto's Deputy Mayor Sandra Bussin.
In the flower-draped room, dining on saffron chicken, are some of the most influential men and women in Toronto's Chinese community.
They have come to honour Liu on the launch of his Phoenix Television network in Canada, but also to bask in the presence of China's biggest broadcast media tycoon and one of its richest men.
Liu is not only symbolic of China's new capitalist elite, he is representative of a tidal wave of foreign-language programming that — for better or worse — is destined for Canadian shores.
Phoenix has not been without controversy: Opponents charge that Liu's network is thinly veiled propaganda for the communist government, while his competitors say Phoenix's presence threatens to wipe out local ethnic broadcasters.
One thing is certain: Liu, a large, imposing man over six feet tall, knows how to make an impression.
On this night he has flown in his top anchors from Beijing to host the dinner, an advance team of seven from his Los Angeles bureau, and several more staff from New York. The evening starts with not a phoenix, but perhaps more appropriately with a lion dance — the lion representing a potent symbol of power in Chinese mythology.
The dancers wind their way around the tables and eventually bow deferentially to the head phoenix himself — Liu, in exchange for a lucky packet.
The symbolism is palpable: Even the mighty lion must bow before the phoenix — a Chinese symbol of royalty. But the reality is, in Canada, the phoenix has not been given the most royal of receptions.
"I was actually a little surprised that there was so much opposition, that it took us so long to get to this market," says Liu later that evening. "I really didn't expect to run into so many difficulties coming here."
Liu's station is one of the first foreign Chinese-language stations to be recently approved by the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). But he had to face the ire of elements of the Canadian public who questioned his close ties to the communist party.
Liu served in the People's Liberation Army as a colonel and eventually worked his way up to becoming a manager in the Central People's Radio Station, where he was responsible for overseeing the highly sensitive military affairs section.
Moreover, about 9 per cent of Phoenix's shares, which are listed in Hong Kong, are owned by the Chinese government. Phoenix has also been accused of glossing over significant political issues such as Tiananmen Square and Tibet in an attempt to show the government in a positive light.
But in an interview, Liu seems to alternate between sincere joviality and steel-eyed businessman, especially when he bristles at the comments that his station could be anything but an objective media entity.
"Yes, Phoenix has a very good relationship with the Chinese government. It doesn't mean that we are automatically a propaganda mouthpiece for the government," he says. "There are many Canadians who are friendly toward the Chinese government. Does that mean they are mouthpieces of the Chinese government?"
Most Canadians, of course, don't have a claim to companies that are partially owned by the Chinese, but Liu insists his station — the only private enterprise allowed to report news in the Mandarin language — has consistently pushed the envelope when it comes to reporting.
"We run a very objective service, we are not slanted or attempting to denounce or hurt anyone. We are only here to serve the Chinese community," he says, drumming his fingers on the mahogany table beside him. It is likely, though, that given his political connections and his standing in China's business hierarchy, these are not allegations that Liu would normally hear in person — nor would his detractors care to deliver them personally. But certainly, compared to his competitors in China, Liu may have a point.
Phoenix's glossy packaging — which includes a 60 Minutes-style "investigative reporting" show and a channel of 24-hour news modelled after CNN — is a lot slicker than channels run by state broadcaster China International Television Corp.
While CITC is the sanctioned mouthpiece of the central government, Phoenix has managed to push the envelope ever so slightly including reporting on SARS and doing some live reporting from Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province.
And so far, he has met with success, with an estimated audience of 130 million with his five channels, mostly in mainland China, but also in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Europe and the U.S.
The company does well over $100 million (U.S.) annually in advertising revenue. But Liu says the potential — given a mainland population alone of more than one billion and a wide-ranging diaspora of ethnic Chinese — is barely tapped.
While Liu moves forward on his plans for creating the first truly global Chinese broadcaster, observers say no matter how he may try to spin it, his success ultimately depends on the largesse of the Chinese government.
"Let's face it, what he's showing are programs approved by the state," says Leslie Chan, a professor of new media studies at the University of Toronto. "I think the Chinese government would like to show to the outside world that there is some opening up, that citizens may be allowed to some extent to question freely, but really this is an adjunct of the state machinery."
Still, Chan says broadcasters in general have been given much more leeway than in the past. When Chan was in Beijing last summer he was surprised to see an investigative segment on television looking at counterfeit wine.
"You have to give them some credit. A few years ago you wouldn't see anyone questioning the status quo, but there is some progress," says Chan.
In Canada, there is more to come. Currently nine channels from CITC dubbed the "Great Wall" package are awaiting approval before the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission. (CRTC)
If those channels are approved, it will be a crowded universe in the Canadian Chinese-language television market moving from two homegrown channels to 14, making it one of the most competitive markets in the world.
But there is no secret why broadcasters such as Phoenix are choosing to do battle here: China has been Canada's Number 1 source of immigrants since 1998, with Hong Kong holding the top position before that.
There are an estimated 1,250,000 ethnic Chinese in Canada with about 510,000 in the Greater Toronto Area, according to advance data from a Diversity in Canada study by the Solutions Research Group.
According to the study, which will be released March 1, 97 per cent of Chinese Canadians 15 years or older watch some kind of television, with more than half watching at least some TV in a Chinese language, either Cantonese — which skews toward Hong Kong viewers, or Mandarin, which appeals to mainland Chinese immigrants.
According to Kaan Yigit, president of Solutions Research Group, while the Cantonese-language community is well served, there are still "a limited amount of services" available for Mandarin speakers, which creates an opportunity for Phoenix.
The fertile influx of immigrants has created a huge market, which media companies have rushed to tap.
Canada's Chinese print media has already experienced a vicious newspaper war, with a fourth daily Chinese newspaper appearing in Toronto last November. Even traditional media companies, such as Torstar Corp., the parent company of the Toronto Star, were unable to resist the allure: It most profitably bought Hong Kong-based Sing Tao newspaper's Canadian operations in 1998.
For Liu, the attraction is simple: "Canada is a really important market for us. For one thing, the market is huge. There are more ethnic Chinese here than the entire 41 communities of Europe," he says.
Another bonus, says Liu, is that Canadian Asians are typically professional and what he calls "high quality" thanks to Canada's "ingenious and clever" immigration policies of attracting the best and the brightest — the most sought after audience for advertisers.
The broadcaster with the most to lose is Vancouver's privately held Fairchild Television, which also owns sister company Talentvision. Fairchild broadcasts in Cantonese, while Talentvision broadcasts in Mandarin.
According to the diversity study, the top channels for all Chinese Canadians are Fairchild, followed by CityTV, Omni2 and the CBC. Chinese Canadians are also more likely than average households to have digital cable.
Not surprisingly, Fairchild filed an intervention with the CRTC arguing the market would be "saturated" with Phoenix and the additional channels.
"We just want a level playing field," argues Fairchild president Joe Chan, who says that unlike Phoenix, local companies such as Fairchild must provide at least 33 per cent Canadian content at all times. "They can amortize their costs over many countries so it doesn't cost them anything to come here."
Another issue to consider, says U of T's Chan, is that state-run broadcasters have deep pockets. Unlike the competition, they also don't necessarily have the bottom line as their top priority.
"If the state objective is propaganda, then all their programs are funded and they don't have to recoup their money from advertising, if they consider getting their message out as the main part of their mandate," says Chan.
The road for Liu and other foreign- language channels was paved in a controversial decision by the CRTC last year. The regulator ruled that Italian language RAI International 2 would be allowed as a digital tier channel, as long as it also provided the existing domestic channel Telelatino. Before that ruling, third-language services were rejected if they were considered to be in competition with domestic channels.
Now that the floodgates are open, Canada's domestic channels must contend with the global ambitions of entrepreneurs such as Liu.
After resigning from his radio post, Liu based himself first in Singapore, where he traded in petroleum. He subsequently expanded into real estate and infrastructure projects in China. By the mid 1990s, he had become rich enough to consider taking a run at the media business — but as an owner.
During its early years, Phoenix had only one channel. But it has now expanded to five. The company went public in 2000.
And despite Liu's connections, the company has had a bumpy ride, achieving profitability only in the last two years. The company's market capitalization of $5.68 billion Hong Kong means it is worth about $845 million Canadian. In addition to his privately held wealth of real estate and other assets, Liu owns a substantial 37.6 per cent of Phoenix shares, or $318 million. The other significant shareholder is media tycoon Rupert Murdoch.
Liu's Phoenix station has been available on the Rogers network for just over a month at $19.95, but he claims more than 3,000 subscribers have already signed on. Rogers has been a champion of Liu's channel, as well as the Great Wall package being considered by the CRTC. In an earlier interview with the Star, David Purdy, head of Roger's television division, said the cable operator was simply giving consumers more choice.
Liu's company is already in talks with other cable and satellite companies and expects to make an announcement soon that their programming will be available across Canada.
While Phoenix currently only has one freelancer based in Toronto, Liu says he will likely install a full-fledged bureau. Liu talks about the first time he saw Toronto as a reporter. He brought his camera. He liked the friendly people. During the interview, a staff photographer continuously clicks away while a television reporter and camera operator dutifully rolls tape. It is a noteworthy moment. The Phoenix has risen, and Canada's television landscape will never be the same.
My response to the editor:
Phoenix TV: Another Chinese Spy Network
While flamboyant Liu wines and dines our officials to get his mega dollar market rolling, there are other pressing issues at hand that we must not overlook. Last year, four Phoenix TV employees were charged with stealing military secrets in the US. It is clear that Liu’s background as boss of the military affairs section has all to do with this Chinese Intelligence unit! Liu who prides himself of offering objective service through Phoenix TV, is simply trying very hard to make it look like China is being the ‘nice guy’. It is an open secret that this state controlled TV is a mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party but it’s much more than that—it is yet another Chinese espionage network operating in our own backyard! So we get two in one—great glossy package Liu! Please let’s not be so naïve. It’s time for Rogers to allow homegrown New Tang Dynasty TV on the Canadian airwaves for true balanced reporting.
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