Asia-Pacific, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights

China Cuts Down the Foreign Fun

BEIJING, Feb 23 2012 (IPS) - Imported television shows watched by millions will be canned during the country’s prime “golden time” hours, the government announced last week. Last month, popular prime time entertainment programmes were slashed by two-thirds. This was after programmes featuring time travel were all but banned last year.

In the latest signs of an escalating clampdown on entertainment in China, the television broadcast regulator has declared that “vulgar” foreign television shows – which mostly hail from Asia – will be barred 7-10pm.

The newest rules aim to boost China’s domestic television industry, forcing audiences away from Asian competition towards local shows. Many feel that the move is also an attempt to protect state-run China Central Television (CCTV), known for its stiff evening news and stale dramas.

The incapacitating series of regulations were felt most keenly in October when the industry watchdog, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), announced a cap on mass-watched “entertainment” shows, which were declared pure “poison” by one official.

By the end of last year, China’s 34 satellite channels had cut the number of entertainment shows – largely spin-offs of Western hits such as American Idol and Top Gear – from 126 to just 38 during the prime-time hours, marking a 69 percent decrease. The ban came into effect officially on Jan. 1.

In the place of the rags to riches singing competitions and sassy dating shows which have proliferated under China’s enterprising provincial television channels, SARFT stated that each channel must air “morality building” programmes weekly. Talent contents will be limited to just 10 nationwide per year.

“SARFT does not want provincial TV to pose a threat to the national influence of CCTV. So they have stopped many programmes,” says Dr. Grace Leung, a visiting scholar at Beijing’s Tsinghua University who specialises in television regulation.

In the latest rules, announced last Monday, all foreign shows – which are mainly sourced from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand and South Korea – must pass state approval.

“TV series that contain vulgar and violent scenes should not be imported,” stated China Daily, adding that “severe punishments” will be handed out to channels who violate the new rules.

According to the state-run newspaper, the regulations will help create a “favourable environment for TV shows made by companies on the Chinese mainland.”

Propaganda over profit remains a crucial concern for SARFT, which functions under the propaganda arm of the Communist Party. Pushing the Party creed over the competitiveness of the television industry as a whole remains paramount.

“With more than 96 or 97 percent of the total population (tuning in), TV is still the most influential vehicle for propaganda. One of SARFT’s major tasks is ideological control,” says Dr Leung.

“There is concern whether (satellite stations) are doing the correct job to educate their audience rather than provide entertainment alone. So profit making is not a primary concern for them – they would prefer to stick to their original task of educating and propaganda to prevent controversial issues arising,” she adds.

Programmes that have felt the full force of the state truncheon over the past year include the highly marketable “time-travel” genre, in which characters travel back in time to different dynasties.

In September, SARFT suspended Super Girl, a Pop Idol spin-off. At its peak it generated 400 million messages. Further victims include the dating show If You Are The One, which, although still running, has curtailed its more salacious elements in favour of heavy-handed moral messages.

“The cycle of tightening and loosening up is nothing new in China,” says Ying Zhu, author of Two Billion Eyes: The Story of China Central Television. “Obviously the tightening up cannot last long when the issue of bread and butter is at stake. The real clash is between the mandate of a Chinese cultural tradition dictated by morality and the demand of a market system dictated by profit.”

The newest regulations, however, might backfire. Internet users in China now number over 500 million and many people are switching off their television sets in favour of finding entertainment on their smart phones and laptops, where censorship is less pervasive and the state has less hold.

“Only people like my mother-in-law would watch (programmes) on TV and now even she has switched to the Internet,” says Raymond Zhou, 49, a Beijing-based newspaper columnist and social critic. “These regulations are going to drive more and more young people away from television, because they are leaving anyway. You are giving them the extra push – now they leave happily.” (END/IPS/AP/IP/AE/CR/HD/CN/CM/SS/12)

 
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