China’s media watchdog in legal challenge over censorship of gay content

Beijing court accepts rare case in which regulator will be asked to provide legal basis for rules that describe homosexuality as ‘abnormal’

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 January, 2018, 9:48pm
UPDATED : Friday, 05 January, 2018, 10:28pm

A member of the public is taking China’s media watchdog to court over new regulations that describe gay relationships as “abnormal”, demanding the regulator provide a legal basis for censoring audiovisual content on the internet that depicts homosexuality.

In a rare move, the Beijing No 1 Intermediate People’s Court accepted the case from Fan Chunlin, 30, earlier this week and is expected to hand down a verdict within six months, state-run Global Times reported, citing Fan’s lawyer, Tang Xiangqian.

The chances of winning are small, Tang told the newspaper, but he hoped the case would raise awareness of gay rights and help promote acceptance of the community.

There are an ­estimated 70 million members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in mainland China. Homosexuality was illegal until 1997 and was declassified as a mental disorder only in 2001. Social attitudes towards homosexuality remain generally closed, in part due to the traditional Confucian emphasis on having children.

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The court case refers to controversial rules introduced by the media regulator in June, banning online audiovisual content that portrays “abnormal sexual relations or behaviour” such as incest, sexual perversion, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual violence – and homosexuality.

Also on the banned list are programmes that incite people to break the law, and anything deemed to harm national security.

Documentaries, films, animations and dramas must be screened by at least three censors before they can be broadcast online, according to the rules.

They were issued by the China Netcasting Services Association, which is under top media regulator the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT).

Their release prompted a flurry of freedom of information requests by gay activists to SAPPRFT trying to find out whether the association had the power to issue the regulations in the first place, and whether they had any legal basis.

LGBT Rights Advocacy China also campaigned online, urging more people to file requests for information to step up pressure on the authorities.

But the regulator would not divulge any related information, such as the association’s work report, saying it contained third-party information that could not be disclosed – prompting Fan to take SAPPRFT to court.

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Gay rights activist Brian Leung Siu-fai welcomed the court’s decision to accept the legal challenge, but he was not optimistic about the outcome.

“Even if the authorities are just doing this to put on a show in court by accepting the case, at least it is willing to put on a show,” said Leung, chief campaigner with Hong Kong gay rights group the Big Love Alliance, who has worked on the mainland for two years.

The association that issued the rules has more than 600 members, including the state-run Xinhua news agency and Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily.

SAPPRFT did not respond to a request for comment.

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