Censorship in China

China tightens censorship of online TV programmes days after suspending shows featuring gay love, excessive sex and violence

Move comes as senior official at nation’s television watchdog demands that restrictions on online shows match those of traditional television programmes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 February, 2016, 1:26am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 March, 2016, 11:09am

Beijing has further tightened its muzzle on mainland China’s internet after a senior media content watchdog official demanded all online programmes be censored as strictly as those of traditional television programmes.

The move comes days after widespread audience dissatisfaction when popular shows, made and aired by Chinese video streaming sites, were removed or suspended until they had been censored to the satisfaction of the media content regulator.

Addiction, an online drama depicting gay love – a taboo subject for state media entertainment programmes – was taken offline last week just days after other programmes, including Go Princess Go, were stopped because of excessive sex, violence and controversial content.

Many younger mainlanders prefer to watch internet television programmes rather than the state-run channels such as China Central Television, which carry lots of propaganda.

Li Jingsheng, head of the television drama management division of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, said in a keynote speech at yesterday’s annual meeting of the National Television Industry Annual Conference that the watchdog would step up regulation of shows produced and broadcast on the internet, the web portal reported.

Ray Zhao, an analyst at Guotai Juan Securities, said the impact of the watchdog’s new rules on the cultural sector would be “just like the central bank on the finance world”.

Zhao said: “What it says definitely shapes the industry. It will not affect firms’ earnings, but will limit their room for creativity.”

Several firms such as the online video platforms iQIYI and had “crossed the line” by producing some web-only series with content that featured vulgarity to attract larger audiences, Zhao said. They would be forced to alter their strategies by the new regulations, he added.

China boasts the world’s largest online content audience – but also the strictest internet censorship. Most mainland internet programmes are run by private firms.

“We are taking the path of developing internet shows with Chinese characteristics,” Li was quoted as saying.

In 2014 the watchdog limited foreign content to just 30 per cent of overall content and pulled several popular shows such as The Good Wife and The Big Bang Theory. At the time, foreign shows comprised more than half of the content on popular video sites.

The watchdog would come up with regulations, including one to ensure the censor’s standards for television programmes matched those of online programmes, Li said. “What cannot be aired on television must not be shown on the internet.” Li added.

Censors hired by video websites will need to be trained and tested by the watchdog, with censoring carried out 24 hours a day.

About 200 online series with 800 episodes were produced by video platforms in 2013, but this rose to 805 shows with a total of 12,000 episodes last year, Luo Jianhui, head of the watchdog’s Online Audio Visual Programme Department was quoted as saying by internet platform

Such shows are reaching 17 per cent of the mainland’s total audience, while advertising input has increased by more than 50 per cent in recent years as internet speeds have developed rapidly.

“We are paying close attention now because future development will be even more rapid because of the huge popularity of apps on mobile phones,” Luo said. Shows with little mainstream value would be targeted by the current crackdown, Luo added.

Additional reporting by Xie Yu