Censors strike at internet content after hit parody

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 July, 2017, 9:00am

Just months after a politically charged profanity embarrassed mainland authorities by becoming a huge online hit, censors have struck back with yet another crackdown on 'indecent and unlawful' internet content, particularly parodies.

The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (Sarft) issued a directive on Monday highlighting prohibitions on 31 categories of online audio and video content, from violence to pornography, terrorism and content that might incite ethnic discrimination, hatred and undermine ethnic unity and social stability.

Many netizens said the directive was in response to the embarrassment of the extraordinarily popular cultural phenomenon of the 'grass-mud horse', or caonima, which is a homonym for a vulgar expression used to mock the government's 'harmonious society' slogan and protest against internet control.

The phenomenon has proved so popular that it has spawned a grass-mud-horse industry of videos, cartoons and stuffed toys.

In its directive, Sarft said it was targeting content that 'publicises passive and decadent values and exaggerates ignorance and backwardness of ethnic groups and the dark sides of society'. Any material that disparaged People's Liberation Army officers, police and law and order workers, or parodied revolutionary and state leaders was also prohibited.

The administration called attention to a regulation originally issued in late 2007 that took effect in February last year in which video websites were urged to 'hire high-quality staff to censor and examine content and put emergency procedures in place' to handle parodies, music videos, short films, or cartoons.

Films and television drama footage, documentaries and pictures that had been censored or did not have a broadcasting licence should not be broadcast, the directive said.

Mainland media said the directive was a blow to fans of overseas dramas who watched soap operas from the United States, Japan and Korea uploaded onto the internet.

But industry analysts said the directive would not have a big impact on this kind of content and was designed to hinder the spread of political parodies or footage of politically sensitive issues, such as the June 4 commemorations.

Others said it showed Sarft's long-standing intention to extend its authority to the internet, which had fast become an influential platform. 'China's internet industry has many administrators, from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to the Communist Party Publicity Department and the Ministry of Public Security. But Sarft wants to extend its reach to the internet, the most active industry,' a senior video website manager said yesterday.

'But it's worth considering the stress on the copyright and broadcasting licences given that it's impossible to tame rampant DVD piracy in the market. The rules are stated in words attempting to show China's stand on safeguarding intellectual property rights to the international community. But its main point is to tame the websites and manipulate them for propaganda duties or to crack down on information the authorities dislike.'