TV fans angry after foreign shows suddenly pulled from popular Chinese video-sharing sites

Website Bilibili says British hits such as Yes Minister and The IT Crowd were removed due to copyright issues, but viewers believe it has more to do with Beijing’s campaign to ‘clean up’ the internet

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 July, 2017, 3:34pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 July, 2017, 11:20pm

Chinese television viewers have expressed anger and frustration over the sudden disappearance of their favourite foreign shows from two of the country’s most popular video-sharing websites.

Bilibili – one of the biggest of the YouTube-style sites in China with more than 150 million active users – removed most of its TV shows made in the United States, Britain and Thailand on Wednesday. Deleted shows included two British hits, the 1980s political satire Yes Minister and more recent sitcom The IT Crowd.

All foreign categories that previously existed on the website, such as “American drama”, have also been removed.

Meanwhile, nearly all foreign films and TV shows have also disappeared from AcFun, another popular video-sharing website.

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Bilibili said some shows were unavailable because it was reviewing whether they complied with regulations, without specifying what they were.

A customer service officer said earlier the videos were taken down because of copyright issues, and it was unclear whether they would be available on the site again in the future.

The website is a favourite of young Chinese and is known for its wide range of videos and a real-time system that displays user comments as subtitles. Some 90 per cent of its users were born after 1990, state-run Xinhua news agency reported in June.

Although China has long been criticised for its cavalier attitude to copyright and piracy, some TV fans believe the shows were pulled from the websites as part of an ongoing crackdown by Beijing to “clean up” the internet that has seen celebrity gossip accounts shut down, video content restricted and virtual private networks closed. VPNs are a popular way to get around internet controls by rerouting traffic to other locations, allowing Chinese to access blocked websites with information that could be critical of the Communist Party such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and news sites.

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“I don’t know whether it’s a government move to manage copyright problems or if they’re trying to control how people think,” Bilibili user Hana Li, not her real name, told the South China Morning Post. “Maybe it’s both.”

Other viewers reacted angrily on social media.

“First they start shutting down VPN providers, now foreign TV shows have been taken off AcFun and Bilibili,” one commenter said. “Why would anyone say this is the best of times? It’s the most hopeless time.”

Another wrote on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, that the government “wants to isolate the country from the outside world in the internet age”. “The Qing dynasty is back.”

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Earlier this month, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, which censors media content, ordered state broadcaster CCTV and provincial satellite stations to stop airing period costume dramas and “idol dramas” – love stories featuring young, good-looking actors – and instead show propaganda during prime time in the lead-up to the 19th Party Congress in autumn, a key leadership reshuffle held once every five years.