Censors' diverse interests sink mega-ministry plan

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 March, 2008, 12:00am

Top official hints merging cultural bodies proved too hard

A mega ministry of culture had failed to materialise in this round of government restructuring because balancing the interests of various censors proved too difficult, a top cultural- affairs official hinted yesterday.

'The decision was made after many rounds of discussion involving various parties,' said Zhou Heping, a vice-minister of culture, at a press conference during the National People's Congress.

Mr Zhou, who was trying his best to dodge any questions about censorship, implied he had different thoughts on the notion of consolidating functions of various cultural regulators and creating a mega ministry to manage the country's sometimes unruly cultural scene.

'If I can talk about my personal opinions, I think separating [various cultural censors] has its advantages and disadvantages, and so does merging,' he said.

'The government restructuring is a long process of continual exploration. I think the existing plan is the best one.'

The just-unveiled cabinet shake-up, the sixth since 1982, has abolished four ministries and moved around a total of 15 ministerial agencies.

The Ministry of Culture was left untouched, which surprised some analysts, given the importance President Hu Jintao attaches to the ideological field and also the fractured nature of the country's cultural administration.

For example, it took four central regulators - the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (Sarft), the Ministry of Culture, the General Administration of Press and Publication (Gapp), and the Ministry of Information Industry (which was just axed in the cabinet shake-up) - to work out a network video management regulation in 2006.

'It's one of those regulatory areas where coherent action is sorely needed,' said Zeng Yan , a Beijing-based culture critic. 'But the involved parties have the incentive to maintain the status quo because it would be easier for them to shirk responsibility when cracks occur in the web of censorship.'

A case in point was that the cultural vice-minister was the right person to ask about Icelandic singer Bjork's outburst at a recent Shanghai concert, but his position was not quite right for inquiring about the controversial movie Lust, Caution.

When grilled by a full house of reporters about the banning of mainland actress Tang Wei for playing the politically incorrect role of a female spy who fell in love with a Japanese collaborator she is supposed to assassinate, Mr Zhou had a terse reply.

'Go and ask the people in Sarft,' he said.

A similar rule applied when Li Dongdong , deputy director of Gapp, was asked on the NPC sidelines whether Beijing's tight control over cyberspace would be relaxed to a certain degree during the Olympics.

The regulation of internet content generally falls under the jurisdiction of Gapp - with one exception, the category of Web news.

'That's the job of the Press Office of the State Council,' said Ms Li.