Network offers free press for Chinese in US

( [email protected] ) Apr 15, 2004 02:13 PM EDT

Jennifer Zhang who is a volunteer for NTD-TV, a new station for Chinese-Americans was studying in Shanghai in 1989 when her father phoned her from the United States, warning her not to go to Tiananmen Square. Ms. Zhang heard stories of the violence from friends who returned from Beijing, but she didn't understand the full force of her father's request .Fifteen years later, Chinese media still have not disclosed to the country what happened in June 1989.

Free press is still a foreign concept in mainland China, where legislation severely restricts news content,for example,the persecution religionary and the SARS. But a rapidly growing Chinese-language television station, headquartered in New York, hopes to reverse the impact of censorship and propaganda on worldwide Chinese communities, who still rely heavily on media from mainland China for their news.

"My husband told me, 'It's an investment. Hopefully the station will one day be as big as CNN, and you will be a pioneer,' " Zhang says.

The burgeoning population of Chinese-Americans demanded an uncensored media source, say founders of NTD-TV, which is largely funded by investors and donors.

"There are things about which [the Chinese] have a skewed point of view," says Andrew Nathan, a China specialist at Columbia University in New York. "They only hear the government line, and can't imagine an alternative view to their own."

The station says it hopes to bridge gaps between modern Chinese and their heritage, as well as between Eastern and Western cultures.

NTD-TV is still on wobbly legs, with most of its bureaus operating out of people's homes and many of its employees working without pay. The small New York office was almost entirely built by volunteers, and during peak hours it's crammed with reporters, editors, and technicians. At news events, Zhang's hand-held camera looks like a toy compared with the hulking equipment around her.

"What we have is not money but dedication," says Zhang, who acts as cameraman, reporter, and engineer. "You have to wear different hats at the beginning. That's how we became very efficient."

But NTD-TV's range stops abruptly at China's border. Beijing has jammed its signal, an NTD-TV engineer says.

"We won't allow this spread of fallacies in the government," says Sun Weide, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington. "It is not actually public media, but in reality a propaganda tool of the Falun Gong."

It's a backlash Zhong Lee, NTD-TV'S president and cofounder, says he anticipated. He expected that a rising independent force in a flat media landscape would draw some antagonism.