China curbs foreign content in TV programming

Chinese television broadcasters have been ordered to stop showing foreign programs during prime time and limit the total amount of programming from other countries.

A new set of rules bars imported programming from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. and calls for no more than 25% of programming each day to come from foreign sources, according to a statement issued Monday by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, China’s media regulator.

“If there’s no rule against taking shows from abroad, then TV stations will only broadcast foreign shows,” said Yuan Fang, a professor in the advertising department of the Communication University of China.

Yuan said the new regulation will pertain mostly to shows from South Korea and Taiwan, which is deemed a renegade province by China. Western programs, he said, receive little airplay on Chinese television stations, although pirated versions are widely available online.


President Hu Jintao has called for increased government control of China’s culture in television, film and the performing arts. In an essay published last month in a Communist Party magazine, Hu warned of “hostile foreign powers” that are attempting to infiltrate China’s “ideological and cultural sphere.”

Soon after Hu’s article was published, authorities began implementing a sweeping policy cracking down on what regulators called “excessive entertainment” on Chinese television. The policy limited stations to broadcasting two entertainment shows during prime time each week and urged them to produce shows that espouse Communist Party values.

Last year, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television issued a strong criticism of time travel shows for “treating serious history in a frivolous way.” Dating shows and singing competitions have been intermittently taken off the air and replaced with news programs and documentaries celebrating Communist Party history.

Xi Jinping, the presumptive heir to the presidency who is visiting the United States this week, once said that he enjoys American World War II films because they draw a clear line between good and evil, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.

Jeremy Goldkorn, a China media analyst and founder of the online magazine, said the series of regulations may push younger viewers toward Internet-based forms of entertainment, which are generally more difficult to control.

Goldkorn said there are too few foreign shows on Chinese airwaves for the new limits to seriously change the habits of most Chinese TV viewers.

“It’s not going to affect the hundreds of millions of people who just turn on the TV and leave it on all day,” he said.

Kaiman is a special correspondent.