Chinese censors are clamping down on foreign TV shows, videos

Watchdog’s proposals will limit screen time for overseas programmes, require shows to be submitted for approval

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 September, 2018, 8:25pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 September, 2018, 10:14pm

Chinese audiences could soon find it harder to access their favourite foreign television shows under new rules proposed by the broadcasting watchdog.

According to a draft released by the National Radio and Television Administration on Thursday, television stations and online video platforms will be allowed to allocate no more than 30 per cent of their daily screen time to programmes produced overseas.

All foreign shows must also be submitted for approval to the authority before their release, and cannot be shown on television during the prime time hours of 7pm to 10pm.

While the restriction on screen time appears to be a loosening of a similar guideline introduced in 2012, which set the proportion at 25 per cent, the initial cap applied only to television broadcasts and not video websites.

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The new proposals, which are available for public comment until the middle of next month, also stipulate that with the exception of television series, films, cartoons and documentaries, all foreign programmes must be submitted for editing and repackaging before being screened.

This would include all education, culture, science and technology, arts and sports shows.

For programmes made in China the administration is proposing a 20 per cent cap on the number of foreign actors and production staff they can employ. The quota does not apply to people from Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan.

Another restriction on domestic productions is that the positions of director and scriptwriter cannot both be held by foreigners, including people from Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan. Similarly, the male and female lead actors cannot both be foreigners.

Existing regulations that prevent the broadcast of foreign media news and political reports will remain unchanged.

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“Introducing and circulating overseas programmes should help to enrich people’s spiritual life, learn from the world’s outstanding cultural achievements and promote equal communication between China and foreign countries on the cultural front,” the administration said in a statement.

Zhan Jiang, a journalism professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said the proposals were evidence of the government’s efforts to tighten its grip on ideology and culture.

“I’m not surprised by these new rules,” he said. “I’m afraid the censorship will only get tighter.

“I guess the authorities want to restrict foreign shows as they know they are more engaging than domestic ones,” Zhan said.

“Officials fear that their propaganda and education campaigns will lose traction if Chinese children are exposed to too many foreign shows.”

A woman who works for a leading Chinese video broadcasting platform, but asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, said the new restrictions would be damaging for the entertainment industry.

Far more than 30 per cent of the content broadcast by her company and many others was produced overseas as it was better quality, she said.

“China produces a lot of cartoon series, but their quality is really lousy. We can’t make high-quality cartoons like Peppa Pig, PJ Masks and Paw Patrol. Not because we don’t have the technology, but because we don’t have good scripts or ideas.”

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When the new rules came in, people would simply look to bypass them, the woman said.

“If only low-quality cartoons are available to mainland audiences, I expect more people will resort to using virtual private networks to skirt the Great Firewall and watch programmes on foreign websites.”

Leo Lin, a show business agent based in Beijing, said he was concerned about the new restrictions on the use of foreign actors and production staff.

“There were previously no detailed rules on the percentage of overseas actors you could have in domestic TV shows,” he said. “The rules are definitely getting more strict.”