Lessons in morality to muscle aside talent, dating, reality shows on TV
The mainland's fun police will limit the number of entertainment shows allowed on television from next year, replacing them with compulsory moral education programmes.
The move is part of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television's (Sarft's) anxiously awaited comprehensive regulations to clean up the national airwaves.
The rules, released yesterday, are part of an ongoing crackdown following the Communist Party Central Committee's recent meeting, at which leaders discussed boosting the nation's soft power and cultural security and asserted the party's role as the arbiter of social morality before a leadership transition next autumn.
The programmes that will be restricted include talent, dating and game shows, as well as evening performance galas, talk shows and reality shows.
No more than nine such shows will be allowed to be aired on the 34 cable channels between 7.30pm and 10pm each day. Each television network will be limited to two such shows each week and to no more than 90 minutes of such shows between 7.30 and 10 on any given night.
The broadcasting regulators also demanded that cable television networks improve the quality of news programming and introduce more documentaries as well as shows related to news, the economy, culture, science education and children.
Each cable television channel must air at least two hours of news-related programming from 6pm to midnight every day plus two independently produced news programmes, each at least 30 minutes long, from 6pm to 11.30pm every day. Every channel should also broadcast a programme on ideology and morality to promote traditional Chinese culture and 'socialist core values'.
The regulations come after months of speculation about an across-the-board crackdown by Sarft targeting TV programmes that resort to scandal, controversy and even scams to boost ratings. They follow a ban last month on Hunan TV's popular talent show Happy Girls.
More than 180 million mainland households are connected to the national cable network - half of all households with televisions.
Jin Delong, director of Sarft's publicity office, denied rumours that the appearance of Taiwanese celebrities on cable channels would be restricted.Xinhua reported that many cable channels had already launched 'morality-enhancing' programmes since September 1. The new regulations provide for Sarft provincial bureaus to set up special task forces to enforce them.
Professor Song Jianwu, dean of the school of journalism and communication at the China University of Political Science and Law, said that the excessive competition in entertainment shows wasn't healthy, 'but the way to tackle this probably needs more consideration'.
Wu Zuolai, a Beijing-based cultural scholar, said entertainment should not be restricted.
'You can limit programming with illegal content by law, but you cannot use administrative means to restrict TV shows,' he said. 'The free flow of information should be encouraged. The audience has no choice but to watch entertainment-related programmes, because sensible discussions reflecting social issues are too few on TV.'
He added that repressing such discussions would backfire as authorities try to maintain social stability through 'cultural security'.