“We’re hearing from Chinese TV stations that maybe they shouldn’t be doing business with us,” one BBC source tells me. “In the past this has happened with our news output but it’s very unusual for drama – it is fiction, after all.” It’s thought Chinese officials are feeling particularly sensitive about Sino-Anglo relations in a week that UK Prime Minister David Cameron has led a trade delegation to the country. The Beijing government is unhappy with the way the 9th series of Spooks (aka as MI5) has portrayed Chinese secret agents as either nefariously plotting to blow up London or hacking into US-Anglo cyber-security. One insider at Kudos, the independent TV producer which makes the show, tells me he’s surprised by China’s reaction. “There is no country that Spooks has not portrayed in an unflattering light — including our own,” he says. China represents a huge market for BBC Worldwide, which held its first China Showcase for local TV stations in Beijing in August. Although all Chinese TV stations are state-controlled, they compete fiercely for programming. BBC Worldwide has sold pre-school programmes including In the Night Garden and Teletubbies to China. There’s also a Chinese version of Beeb format Dancing With the Stars. One Beijing-based media analyst tells me these flare-ups do happen from time to time – Sony, Disney and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation have all felt the lash of China’s tongue. Murdoch’s Asian pay-TV service, Star TV, dropped BBC news from its channels in 1994 after officials complained. Last year, Chinese officials broke off dealings with the BBC after it broadcast a documentary commemorating the 20th anniversary of the pro-democracy protests in Beijing. BBC Worldwide says that it has heard nothing official and it is requesting information from the government. However, writing things down is not the way things work in China. Written proclamations are often ignored – it’s what’s said verbally that matters.Says one BBC insider: “How serious this is remains to be seen.”
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