Lost in translation

On November 23, Russia's RTR Planeta TV channel began broadcasting in China, while China's Central Television CCTV opened the head office of its new Russian-language TV station, CCTV Russia, in Moscow.

After more than one year of hard line negotiations, hundreds of liters of consumed green tea and dozens of hours of transcontinental flights, China and Russia have finally stepped onto what has been deemed "The Bridge of cultural and spiritual exchange". Now broadcasts of Russia’s RTR Planeta can be watched in China, while CCTV Russia has been included in the list of channels on the Russian commercial satellite TV platform NTV PLUS and covers the entire country, the CIS and most of the remaining post-Soviet regions with the general aim to become the main source of information about China, its current affairs and culture.

The launch of the two channels is part of the Year of the Chinese language currently underway in Russia and is in many ways a continuation of the Year of the Russian language held in China in 2009. The governments of the two countries have been stepping up efforts to bring their nations closer, holding over two hundred and sixty events so far in which over one hundred million people took part in China alone.

"Like a warm spring breeze, twining around fields and meadows, this event brings warmth and tenderness into our relationship on all levels," poetically commented China's deputy head of the radio, cinema and TV state administration, Li Wei, at the channel's official opening ceremony in one of Moscow's most expensive hotels.

However, when looked at closely, the details of the deal are not so poetic. CCTV Russia is, in fact, the third Chinese state TV channel broadcasting in Russia, after CCTV 4 in Chinese and CCTV News in English. While the VGTRK (Russian State Television and Radio Company) – based RTR Planeta, which broadcasts solely in Russian, was only allowed to air in China's 2500 four-star hotels, as well as in so-called residential areas for foreigners and educational facilities, but not in the homes of the Chinese public.

"China's got very strict regulations for international channels to be broadcast on the Chinese satellite. And to meet these regulations was really hard work,” says the head of foreign relations of VGTRK, Pyotr Fyodorov. “Still, it's a really great event because there are limited places on the Chinese satellite and there was a really long queue, but we managed to get it."

CCTV has an impressive network of 19 channels with a total audience of more than one billion viewers. The programmes' themes are quite diverse, ranging from news to soap operas. The media giant is considered to be the mouthpiece of the Chinese government and is reportedly under the direct control of the Communist Party (CCP). At the moment, the number of its foreign bureaus has reached 31 and 19 more are planned to open before the end of 2010.

Many analysts say the fact that Chinese authorities have allowed a Russian-language state TV channel to broadcast on its land is definitely a positive sign in the relations between Beijing and Moscow. This is especially reinforced by RT being allowed to broadcast in China by the end of 2010, however, also with limited terms of coverage.

Egor Piskunov, RT