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How An Illegal Filipino Satellite Combated the Censorship of Obama's Speech in China

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While Americans had millions of ways to watch Obama's inauguration speech, here in China, I'm giving thanks for my one: gray-market Filipino satellite. Without it, I would've missed anything past where Obama muttered "communists."

Right now, satellite television is still technically illegal in China, thanks to a 1993 regulation that said only hotels, media outlets and apartment buildings that are specifically for foreigners are allowed to use satellite dishes. Because of that, there's no China-branded satellite company and most TVs come with just the smattering of local regional Chinese channels and, of course, the CCTV.


There's a way around it though. A gray market has popped up in most cities to provide satellite cable services – including cable boxes and regularly updated encryption cards – for anyone willing to pay. Roughly $300 a year will get you channels like BBC World and CNN, HBO and (my personal favorite) the Discovery Channel.

The cards catch satellite signals from the Philippines, which are usually good at not crapping out and give you the added bonus of occasionally glimpsing a crazy mirror world of good ol' American pop culture. Did you know the Philippines had a Project Runway of their own called... Project Runway Philippines?

But I digress. Illegal Filipino satellite equipment saved me from what local Chinese had to watch: The CCTV's live (up until a certain moment) broadcast of the President's inauguration address.


Oh crap! Did he just say "fascism and communism"?! CUT CUT CUT. Um... so, person translating the broadcast... uh... what kind of problems do you think Obama will be facing with regards to the U.S. economy?

The rest of the address was only broadcast later in government-approved snippets.

I suppose I should also take time to be thankful that I speak English, since translations of his speech also had offending parts edited out.