Time Warner Cable Cuts Independent Chinese Channel

June 29, 2016 Updated: June 30, 2016

NEW YORK—For Chinese living in the United States, the media landscape can often resemble the same as that in the motherland: state propaganda, message control, and pressure for reporters to self-censor when it comes to criticism of the ruling Communist Party.

One Chinese television broadcaster bucks the trend: New Tang Dynasty (NTD) Television, which is under the same corporate umbrella as this newspaper, is perhaps the only channel that airs programming and commentary that is openly critical of the Chinese Communist Party, which rules China and goes to great pains to extend its influence overseas.

NTD’s viewers in New York won’t be able to watch the channel on Time Warner Cable anymore, however, after the company severed NTD’s signal on June 30 after a business dispute. The Chinese community in New York has begun voicing its concern.

Time Warner did not immediately reply to telephone and email requests for comment. 

NTD is based in New York—not in China. It has been broadcast on Time Warner Cable for more than ten years. Its uncensored reporting has become a valued resource for the Chinese community, according to community leaders, as they try to figure out what is actually going on in China.

In addition to NTD, Time Warner Cable broadcasts 16 other Chinese-language channels. But those 16 are either mouthpieces for the Chinese regime, strongly influenced by it, or toe the line in more subtle ways—the movie channels, for instance, that would never screen “Seven Years in Tibet.”

Time Warner Cable also broadcasts China Central Television, the primary mouthpiece of the Chinese regime. It, along with many other state channels, aired documentaries and similar programs that gloated about the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

That’s not what NTD does, given that its principles closely align with the founding ideals of the United States, according to Samuel Zhou, spokesperson for NTD. “Given our experiences and understanding of the media environment in China, it’s deeply important for us to be able to offer a free and independent voice for the Chinese community,” he said in a telephone interview.

“New Tang Dynasty TV is an important Chinese language TV channel for my constituents,” wrote Justin Yu, the chairman of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of New York, in a letter to the Time Warner’s corporate leadership.

“Many of them see it as a lifeline for critical, uncensored news and information, free from Chinese government control.”

Yu told Epoch Times that he follows NTD’s community news coverage, and thinks that it is important for an independent news station like NTD to remain available.

Founded in 2001 by Chinese Americans, NTD states on its website that it seeks to broadcast uncensored news into and out of China, as well as to promote traditional Chinese culture.

NTD’s first claim to fame was that it broke the news of the 2003 SARS epidemic in China three weeks before the Chinese regime made a public announcement—and its reporting may have influenced Chinese authorities to take action to prevent SARS from becoming a larger global epidemic. Today, NTD viewers in New York say they rely on the television station for accurate reporting and commentary about China.

Ma Shiguang, a 70-year-old history teacher living in Queens, has been watching NTD news programs on Time Warner Cable. He and his wife have, for the past six years, turned on the channel whenever their relatives visit.

“We learn a lot about what’s going on in the mainland from NTD news, especially since they carry information that regular newspapers or publications won’t,” Mr. Ma said over the telephone. He added that America might be a free country, but one wouldn’t necessarily know it from the texture of the Chinese-language media world.

“Take the other Chinese language channels on Time Warner, for instance,” Mr. Ma continued. “They air nothing of value; it’s all propaganda.” Time Warner carries 17 Chinese broadcasters, including NTD.

Chen Pokong, an author of books on Chinese political culture who often appears as a guest commentator on NTD’s news analysis program, explained that many news channels and other print publications in North America are either owned by the Chinese communist regime, or come under its influence.

“Other overseas Chinese media propagate the Chinese regime’s anti-humanity, degenerated values,” Mr. Chen said. “But NTD promotes free speech, free press, and freedom of belief, which are universal values that America embraces.”

Joy Ma, an acupuncturist in Flushing, a Chinese enclave in New York, is a long-time subscriber to Time Warner. She told Epoch Times that she watches NTD regularly with her sister and friends, in particular a popular lecture series on pre-modern Chinese history and culture by Zhang Tianliang, a professor at the Fei Tian Academy of Fine Arts in upstate New York.

Ann Ng, a former native of Hong Kong, commended the same program. “I wouldn’t watch the variety programs from mainland China stations even if you paid me—they’re crass, boring, and low-grade,” Ms. Ng said over the telephone.

Many viewers say their favorite program on NTD is current affairs commentary by Shi Tao, a jovial ex-Beijinger in a navy blazer who interprets the news through traditional Chinese morality, and badgers Chinese officials about what he sees as their often boneheaded policies.

“It’s very meaningful political commentary,” said Zhang Shouguang, a prominent democracy activist living in Flushing.

“He speaks the truth, and is really cheerful and humorous,” said Susan Liu, a nurse and resident of Flushing. “I watch Shi Tao every day with my aunt.”

“Having an independent Chinese television station is important because it provides earnest analysis of current affairs,” said Ms. Li, a septuagenarian who has lived in New York for 30 years, in a telephone interview. “In terms of news from China, no one dares to reveal things as thoroughly.”

New Tang Dynasty Television was most recently on channel 1414 on Time Warner Cable in New York.

Frank Fang, Eva Fu, and Juliet Song contributed to this report.