Sally Wu Xiaoli
Her 'illegal' audience includes the premier

At a Beijing news conference packed with local and international journalists, Premier Zhu Rongji singled out gung-ho TV host Sally Wu Xiaoli and expressed his appreciation of her newscasts. Zhu isn't alone in his admiration. Wu works for the Hong Kong-based Phoenix Chinese channel, which is officially illegal in the mainland. But 37 million households - and Premier Zhu's - watch its programs. Among them are the popular current affairs shows, "Sally's Eye on the World" and "The Asian Journal." Taiwan-born Wu says her passion for reporting comes from her sense of fairness, as well as her curiosity and bold nature. After graduating from Taiwan's Fu Jing University with a mass communications degree, she fought her way past 600 other applicants to take a reporting slot on Taiwan's Chinese Television System. Wu was already a star on the Taiwan network before coming to Hong Kong in 1993 to work at Phoenix, a subsidiary of STAR TV, which is owned by media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. Wu isn't what you'd call a conventional television presenter. She is known for her loud and powerful voice and uses it to advantage during press conferences. Her news-based programs are well selected, elucidating on topics and entertainment trends that are little known to viewers in media-controlled China. Besides making good use of her voice, Wu is quick to deploy the dramatic gesture for the camera. Earlier this year, when there was talk of the Chinese currency devaluing, she thrust a 10-yuan note at President Jiang Zemin - and asked him whether it would still be worth the same amount next year. She says one of her goals as a television journalist is that "whenever big events happen in places inhabited by Chinese, I want to be there." And wherever she goes, millions of mainland eyes will follow.

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Photo: Asiaweek Pictures