The Federal Communications Commission has rejected a permit that would have allowed Chinese-language broadcasts from a Mexican radio station in Baja California over concerns that the station would beam Chinese government propaganda into the United States.
The commission’s international bureau said in a statement Monday that it turned down the application for Mandarin Chinese programming to be produced in Irwindale, California, for later rebroadcast into the United States on XEWW-AM, a formerly Spanish-language station near Tijuana, Mexico.
The commission said it denied the application in part because of the failure to disclose Beijing’s role in the ownership.
“The application was dismissed because the parties failed to include in their application a key participant, Phoenix Radio, which produces the Mandarin programming in its studio,” the FCC said.
“Phoenix Radio is partially owned by two entities with Chinese government ownership.”
The 77,500-watt radio station, known as a “border blaster” based in Mexico but targeting an American audience, had been beaming Chinese-language broadcasts for the past two years under a temporary license.
Separately, the State Department designated for sanctions nine Chinese state media outlets disguised as new agencies. It was the latest move in an escalating war with Beijing over press rights and media access.
Spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said the State Department acted under a Cold War-era law that mandates reciprocal treatment of foreign states operating in the United States.
State media outlets covered by the sanctions include China Central Television, the China News Service, the People’s Daily and the Global Times, which are now regarded as foreign government missions.
In February, Xinhua News Agency, the China Global Television Network, China Radio International, the China Daily Distribution Corp. and Hai Tian Development USA were similarly identified as arms of the Chinese government.
China in recent months has expelled a number of Beijing-based correspondents for leading U.S. publications and tightened visa restrictions for foreign reporters who were critical of the ruling Communist Party.
With the FCC action announced Monday, the radio station was given 48 hours to cease all Chinese-language broadcasts that can reach U.S. listeners.
The application for the broadcast license was submitted by GLR Southern California, the station’s owner, and a New York financial group called H&H Group USA.
They denied in their 2018 application that they were a front for the Chinese government and said those opposing the application “based [their] arguments on wholly unsupported allegations of improper influence in a self-serving effort to protect [themselves] from competition to the Southern California Chinese-speaking American audience.”
A question of ownership
The FCC acted Monday under a 1992 U.S.-Mexico agreement that limits foreign broadcasts from Mexico capable of reaching U.S. audiences.
Until 2018, XEWW was a Spanish-language station located in Rosarito, Mexico, about 10 miles from the U.S. border. Station owners sought an FCC permit to produce Chinese-language programming at a studio in Los Angeles but failed to identify the study as part of Phoenix Radio.
The FCC said it will review the permit application again if the companies include Phoenix Radio as part of the application.
According to the FCC ruling in the matter, Phoenix Radio is owned by Phoenix Satellite Television (U.S.) Inc., formed in 2000 as part of Phoenix Media Investment Holdings Co. Ltd. Phoenix Media, ostensibly a private company, has been linked to China’s military. Its largest investor is the state-owned China Mobile telecommunications company.
Liu Changle, director of Phoenix Media, is a former propaganda official for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and is close to senior Chinese Communist Party officials, said Sarah Cook, a China expert at Freedom House.
Phoenix TV also was linked to the case of Chinese spy Chi Mak, who was convicted of illegally exporting defense technology to China in 2007. Mak’s brother, Tai Mak, was identified by federal investigators as a PLA intelligence officer working undercover as a broadcast engineer for Phoenix in Southern California. Tai Mak was also convicted as a conspirator in the spy case.
A reporter for Phoenix TV caused a stir in the White House in April by asking President Trump during a press briefing about U.S. government cooperation with China on the coronavirus.
The reporter, who was not identified by name, was in turn asked by the president, “Who are you working for, China? Do you work for China? Or are you with a newspaper? Who are you with?”
The reporter said she was working for Phoenix TV, and Mr. Trump asked, “Who owns that, China? Is it owned by China? Is it owned by the state?”
“It’s a private-owned company,” she said.
“OK. Good,” Mr. Trump said before ignoring the reporter’s question. “Look, I’ll let you know. I’ll give you a good answer to that in a few months.”
Two years ago, Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, opposed allowing the Chinese to operate the radio station. Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, raised similar concerns in April.
“The FCC must protect American security and economic interests, and deny any attempt by the Chinese government to broadcast Communist Party propaganda and other programming into the United States,” Mr. Rubio said at the time.
The application for the permit filed with FCC did not identify Phoenix Satellite TV US as the location for programming production. The application instead listed only the address for the television studio, without saying it was the Phoenix studio.
The denial of the application is part of larger Trump administration efforts to limit Chinese Communist Party and Chinese government influence operations in the United States.
A Chinese-language broadcaster in Southern California, Chinese Sound of Oriental and West Heritage, opposed the application for XEWW-AM programming.
The rival broadcaster told the FCC in a filing that granting a permit to H&H might allow China’s government to “provide its own propaganda programming to air on the station.”
“If the programming of XEWW-AM is tainted by, or worse controlled by, the Chinese Communist Party, the Chinese American community of Southern California could be indoctrinated with CCP propaganda, and the American political and economic community could be damaged,” the filing said.
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