China partially blacks out BBC, CNN reports mentioning Falun Gong

BEIJING - Exhibiting their usual sensitivity over topics considered taboo, Chinese authorities intermittently blacked out broadcasts by CNN and the BBC on Sunday on satellite feeds to hotels and foreign compounds in the capital.

The brief, strategically deployed disruptions were apparently intended to limit exposure to issues or comments considered politically explosive, although most ordinary Chinese lack access to such international news channels.

The disruptions came as Communist leaders hold a weeklong party congress that is expected to anoint a new generation of leaders, as senior leaders led by 76-year-old President and party secretary Jiang Zemin step aside. Security for such events is intense, and state-run local media have been instructed to limit controversial or negative news.

Authorities blocked CNN file footage of an interview with dissident Fang Jue and a brief mention of Falun Gong, banned by the government in 1999 as an "evil cult," during a feature about the search among Chinese for spiritual solace amid the country's mad rush for material wealth, said CNN's Beijing bureau chief, Jaime FlorCruz.

He said the blacked-out segment, which lasted about 10 seconds, contained a mention that Falun Gong had attracted millions of followers before it was banned and showed footage of its members going through their exercise-meditation routines.

"At the same time, we've been allowed to broadcast using a videophone from Tiananmen Square," FlorCruz said Sunday night. "We've been lobbying for that for months and we got permission. In a way, it was a breakthrough for us."

Chinese authorities were outraged in April 2001 that CNN used its videophone to broadcast, live, the departure of American crew members detained on China's Hainan island after a U.S. spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet.

There were also reports that segments or parts of segments of BBC news broadcasts directed at Beijing viewers also had been blocked out since the congress began Friday.

Government censors can do that because of a delay of several seconds between the time the signal is received by the government's satellite, Sinosat, to the time it is relayed to earth stations and viewers in hotels and compounds for foreigners.

Sinosat carries state-run China Central Television and all other channels licensed for broadcast in China. The government recently required all foreign satellite broadcasts in China be carried via Sinosat.

The Chinese government bans public dissent and has sought to extend controls over state-run media to include news obtained over the Internet.