China to unleash flood of TV dramas singing Communist Party’s praises
Watchdog warns broadcasters off ratings chase after popular station hauled over the ideological coals
China’s media watchdog has said it will ensure production a flood of new TV dramas singing the Communist Party’s praises over the next five years, just days after one of the country’s top stations was publicly shamed for not toeing the ideological line.
With just over a month to go until the party’s five-yearly national congress, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television issued more than a dozen guidelines on TV content on Monday.
The first of the 14 guidelines said the industry would ramp up production of “ a large number of TV dramas that sing the praises of the party, the motherland, the people, as well as its heroes”.
Domestic networks will also set aside prime time for programmes with major revolutionary and historical themes.
In addition, the guidelines “strictly forbid” broadcasters from airing purely ratings-driven content and assessing staff solely on ratings. They also pledge more support for distribution of TV shows abroad to increase China’s soft power, and require online video providers to be licensed.
The watchdog’s announcement comes after investigators from the provincial party discipline inspection committee found Hunan Television, the country’s top news and entertainment station, to be lacking in “ideological understanding”.
In a notice issued last week, the committee criticised the station for “deviating from its value as a party mouthpiece”, for being too entertainment-centred, for focusing too much on ratings, and for airing content that sent public opinion in the “wrong direction”.
“In recent years, [Hunan TV] had a number of programming incidents, sparking a high degree of public concern, forming a negative wave of public opinion, and resulting in adverse social impact,” the notice said.
Hunan TV is the maker of the Chinese version of the hit reality show Where Are We Going, Dad?, which follows the travel adventures of five celebrity fathers and their children. It was taken off the air this year after the authorities said it focused too much on celebrity children.
In June, the station’s editorial departments were told to concentrate their coverage on news such as the upcoming party congress and poverty alleviation.
One of its news programmes was ordered to “increase its positive propaganda” because its ratio of negative news was “too high”, while another show was accused of using a “vulgar tone” to criticise a provincial government bureau.
Rogier Creemers, a Chinese media law scholar at Leiden University in the Netherlands, said the guidelines could be an attempt by the regulator to show its effectiveness in the run-up to the congress next month.
“This is the sort of thing that does happen every so often – it’s a very regular thing,” Creemers said. “It isn’t so much about toeing the party line, but toeing their interpretation of the party line.”
The watchdog’s latest guidelines are part of a broader push by the authorities to tighten ideological controls on the media. Earlier this year the regulator issued bans on shows promoting smoking, drinking, homosexuality, adultery, and “historical contradictions”.
Xin Xin, a Chinese media scholar at Britain’s Westminster School of Media, said the watchdog’s drive to promote programmes overseas was “quite consistent with the party’s objective to promote its ideology and socialist culture with Chinese characteristics in the new international and media environment”.
She said that while audience and party needs might differ, there were cases where they overlapped. One example was the contemporary family TV series A Beautiful Daughter-in-law Era, which had been a hit in Tanzania.