China reins in social media and TV shows that are 'too entertaining'


THE CHINESE government has stepped up efforts to crush online dissent by bringing in tougher controls of social media and instant messaging tools, the clearest sign yet that services like Weibo, which are similar to the banned Twitter, are irritating authorities.

The crackdown, which also reins in freewheeling TV companies, comes after a meeting this month of the Communist Party’s central committee, which set the broader agenda for China’s ruling elite and focused heavily on culture.

“Strengthen guidance and administration of social internet services and instant communications tools, and regulate the orderly dissemination of information,” ran a communique issued from the leadership conclave, which was published in the party’s official mouthpiece, the People’s Daily.

The move is part of what is looking increasingly like a “new cultural revolution”, a broader effort to push Communist Party issues ahead of western media and Hollywood movies, all of which are seen as playing a role in encouraging dissent and grassroots activism.

Beijing has been increasingly nervous about the thriving microblogs – and the ease with which they sidestep censorship and government controls.

The crackdown takes place amid national soul-searching about China’s lack of a soul after the death last week of a toddler who was struck by a vehicle and left for dead by passersby.

The story became a huge national issue because of widespread postings on Weibo, just as the high-speed train crash in July, which killed 40 people, turned into a national incident because of the flurry of postings on Weibo.

While Facebook and Twitter are banned in China, most web users are not bothered because Weibo is a superior option for the Chinese blogger. Weibo postings allow 140 Chinese characters, which effectively means 140 words, unlike Twitter in English, which is restricted to 140 characters, a much shorter option.

There were 195 million microblog users registered at the end of June.

China’s growing audience of opinionated people took to Weibo to express their views.

“This is not a restriction on entertainment, it’s a new cultural revolution,” Susaikeniao wrote.

Tianjunshangxiao wrote: “How can a government say it represents you if it wants to control how many times a day you watch entertainment on TV?” Another blogger complained that the ruling was an example of “socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

At the same time, Beijing has announced a crackdown on “vulgar TV”, saying reality TV has to be limited because it is “too entertaining”.

The crackdown reserves particular ire for programmes dealing with marital troubles and matchmaking, talent, game shows, talk shows and reality programming.

These programmes will be banned from the start of next year on China’s 34 satellite TV stations, to be replaced by news and cultural programming. The order also bans viewership surveys and the use of ratings as the sole criteria for whether to broadcast a particular show.

The new order comes from China’s top media watchdog, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, and it refers to shows that are vulgar or “overly entertaining”.

“Satellite channels are mainly for the broadcast of news propaganda and should expand the proportion of news, economic, cultural, science and education, children’s and documentary programming,” it said.

Satellite channels can show no more than nine of the restricted programmes each night between the prime time hours of 7.30pm and 10pm, with individual channels limited to two programmes each not exceeding 90 minutes in total.

They must also show at least two hours of news programmes between 6am and 11.30pm, with at least two news programmes running no less than 30 minutes each to be shown in prime time.

The reaction from the local broadcasters has been shell-shock. Hunan TV said it would adjust programming to focus on “morality, housekeeping and public welfare”.

Writing on Weibo, Huanliangyimeng said limiting entertainment could have a negative impact.

“To limit entertainment is to keep instability, because people focus on current affairs by watching CCTV, they enter into its language environment and follow its way of thinking and are controlled on its tracks,” Susaikeniao wrote.