Academics are critical of a central government crackdown on dating shows, the mainland's most popular television programmes, describing a ban on materialistic content as a breach of freedom of speech. The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (Sarft) ordered a crackdown early last month on excessive materialism and other 'uncorrected and unhealthy values' in match-making programmes. TV stations were told not to broadcast shows featuring guests with questionable moral standards. Satellite TV stations in Zhejiang and Anhui scrapped shows after the order was issued. Jiangsu Satellite TV is still broadcasting its top-rating If You Are The One, but it no longer features outspoken guests obsessed with money. Professor Hu Xingdou , an economist and social commentator at the Beijing Institute of Technology, said mainland society was completely materialistic. 'Money is the sole current measure of one's success,' Hu said. He said the dating shows mirrored advertisements for spouses often seen in big cities, in which men claim to own cars and houses and women describe themselves as young and beautiful. Hu said the crackdown on materialism had gone too far and was suppressing people's right to selfexpression. Zhan Jiang , a journalism professor at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, said comments by Ma Nuo , a guest on If You Are The One who became an overnight star when she told an unemployed suitor she would prefer to cry in a BMW than smile on a bicycle, had annoyed people but had not broken the law. 'People's basic rights, including their right to self-expression, should be guaranteed,' Zhan said in an article posted online. He said social elites, including government officials, entrepreneurs and intellectuals, had led society in a direction that emphasised money over all else. Han Xiaoyan , a sociologist from the East China Normal University, said the Sarft order had curtailed freedom of speech. 'If You Are The One was close to society and represented some people's real thoughts,' Han said. 'But after the crackdown there is limited space for speech which reflects different values.' Both Hu and Zhan said the Sarft order to curb shows of materialism came from random thought, and was not supported by any regulation. 'I think it must be some top leaders dissatisfied [with those programmes]. The Sarft randomly administers, not according to rule of law,' Zhan said. Lu Peng , a media researcher at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said some of the popularity of the dating shows could be attributed to the fact that they exaggerated controversial things. Professor Zhang Yiwu , from Peking University, said it was normal for people to be intrigued by someone saying something they would not dare to proclaim in public themselves. In private many people were materialistic, but they would not admit it in public, he said. Han said the heavily restrained version of If You Are The One, which was broadcast after the crackdown, was less popular than the previous version. 'Many people don't like it,' she said. 'They find that guests in the programme don't represent you or me.' Xinhua, the People's Daily and China Central Television stepped up the criticism of materialistic dating shows in a concerted campaign late last month. Xinhua said their emphasis on materialism was a distortion of reality and open defiance of mainstream values. People's Daily ran a full page, lashing out at the 'vulgar content' of dating shows and followed up a day later, along with CCTV, by criticising the shows for chasing profits and forgetting social responsibility. 'Focusing on grabbing audience-share, some media put a lot of effort into thinking about how to attract viewers and how to challenge accepted norms of good behaviour,' commentary in one CCTV programme said. If You Are The One, broadcast in prime time on Saturdays and Sundays, features 24 women who judge a bachelor by questioning him and watching a short video about him and his lifestyle. They turn off lights if they think he is not suitable. If there are any lights still on after three rounds, the man gets to date one of the women. In the past, most guests detailed their bank balances and assets, with some flaunting their luxury houses, cars and companies. And female guests weren't shy about explaining their preference for wealthy boyfriends. Zhu Zhenfang said her sole requirement was that a boyfriend earned at least 200,000 yuan (HK$229,000) a month.