China cracks down on reality TV

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BEIJING -- China will crack down on reality TV, limiting the number of shows allowed on air, the country's top central broadcast regulator told provincial broadcast officials gathered Friday in Beijing.

Wang Taihua, director general of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television said China will stop some reality television as part of an effort to "clean up TV screens" and tighten government supervision of popular entertainment programming, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

"There are too many reality shows, they are too chaotic and some of them are too vulgar," Wang said. "Many are low-quality, low-brow programs, only catering to the bottom end of the market."

Since his appointment as head of SARFT in late 2004, Wang seldom has been quoted in the press, even as Beijing's top leaders have handed down orders to tighten control of all media, jail Chinese reporters for leaking "state secrets," block Web sites deemed challenging to communist rule, bar majority foreign ownership of movie theaters, and limit new film and television co-production joint ventures to a project-by-project basis.

Wang's rare reported remarks come as "Super Girl Voice," the all-female "American Idol" mimic has just finished its third hit season for Hunan Satellite TV. Last summer, the Super Girls contest became the country's top-rated show, drawing more viewers than China's annual Spring Festival Gala on China Central Television.

A.C. Nielsen data shows China will replace Japan as the world's No. 2 advertising market by 2010, driving broadcasters' competition to reach China's nearly 400 million television households.

Xinhua said there are now more than 500 reality TV shows in China.

Wang said that SARFT will step up efforts to provide new guidelines for program design, to censor programs before they air, and carry out real-time monitoring, in order, Xinhua reported, to "curb the trend of pursuing higher audience ratings by blindly catering to public sensationalism."

Some delegates to the broadcasters' annual work meeting in the capital defended reality shows as a successful and potentially profitable format, citing, for example, "Inspiring China," a CCTV show about Chinese who struggle to live happily against tremendous hardship.

The craze for reality TV shows reflects the public's desire to participate, said Yu Guoming, the vice-dean of People's University School of Journalism and Communication.

"In a market economy, we should encourage this kind of experimental move as long as they do not break the law or offend moral criteria," Yu said.

In September, "The Apprentice," the U.S. reality TV hit built around a competition to work for real estate mogul Donald Trump, was licensed to a Chinese partner in Beijing.

Observers say the "Apprentice" deal, brokered by Creative Artists Agency but yet to manifest itself on China's airwaves, has the potential to pave the way for a groundswell of licensed reality TV shows in a country where Western TV programs, when not knocked-off by local producers, are widely available on pirated DVDs or via illegal Internet download.
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