Merger of media regulator and censor, but no culture super-ministry
The State Council has proposed the national legislature merge the media industry's watchdog and its censor as part of a broad government restructuring plan.
The proposal, made yesterday for consideration by the National People's Congress, would see the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) combine with the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) to create a new broadcast and press administration.
The long-awaited restructuring plan comes amid rising public discontent over the increasingly bloated central administration, which is rife with bureaucracy and inefficiency and at odds with a market-oriented economy.
Professor Qiao Mu, who teaches communications at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said the merger of the two agencies made sense because of their similarities.
However, the streamlining attempt could have been more drastic, as there has been talk of creating a so-called super-ministry of culture, which would have seen the GAPP and SARFT combine with the Ministry of Culture.
One of major tasks for the new press and broadcast administration would be to continue the role of a watchdog overseeing sensitive content in the media as well as dealing with copyright issues, according to the State Council's proposal.
Qiao said the proposed merger was a move in the right direction, but its success would depend on how much the government agency was willing to deregulate itself, particularly in areas such as licensing.
Unlike in other countries where media organisations need only file a registration, both SARFT and the GAPP keep a tight grip on newspapers, publishing houses and broadcasters via a rigid licensing regime, and cross-ownership of media is strictly forbidden.
Past efforts to streamline government agencies between 1982 and 2008 saw their number reduced from 52 to 27, but then more sub-ministerial-level agencies popped up.
"So a mere drop in the number of ministries is useless unless some of the other issues are addressed," Qiao said.
Further complicating the proposed merger, the professor said, is that both SARFT and the GAPP would come under more control by the Publicity Department of the Communist Party, which operates outside the control of the State Council and the top legislature.
Agencies under the Communist Party's administration, such as the International Communication Office of the Central Committee, have proliferated in recent years.