China's Media Regulators Silence TV Singing Contests


HONG KONG – China’s media regulators have ordered the country’s satellite television stations to stop producing new singing-contest programs and to cut down on melodramatic elements of those currently airing.

Chinese authorities are “controlling the total number of these shows" and staggering their airtimes to avoid "uniformity" on China's airwaves, according to a statement released last week on the website of the State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television.

Quoting a spokesman from the department, the statement said all satellite broadcasters will stop producing new TV singing competition shows. Those which have already been completed but have not yet aired will have their runs postponed to “avoid the peak periods in the summer.” Shows already airing will be broadcast at different times to prevent clashes, it added.

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The move was seen as a response to the deluge of singing-contest programs being produced and shown in China in recent months. Among the shows currently battling it out are Zhejiang Satellite TV’s The Voice of China and Shanghai-based Dragon Television’s Chinese Idol. Hunan TV’s local take on The X Factor, which recruited actress Zhang Ziyi alongside well-known singers Eason Chan and Lo Ta-yu as judges, ended its latest season in June.

Seven singing competition shows are expected to continue their runs, while two – including one produced by the state-owned China Central Television – are to have their runs postponed.

Meanwhile, three more programs yet to begin production will be canned – including Zhongge Honggehui (China’s Red Songs Contest), Jiangxi TV’s long-running program featuring renditions of revolutionary musical numbers. The cancelation of the seven-year show coincided with the beginning of the trial of Bo Xilai, the disgraced political star who established a massive following with his campaigns touting Mao Zedong’s political legacy. The former leader of the city of Chongqing's campaigns used party-praising “red songs."

In a move aimed at underscoring Chinese President Xi Jinping’s proclamations of cutting excess in the running of the country, the latest directive also called for broadcasters to cut down on pomp, “eye-catching packaging” and “sentimentalism for show." It said the administration will “increase encouragement and assistance to original television programs which are closer to reality, to life and to the masses.”

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It remains to be seen whether this current development will impact Transformers 4's upcoming talent show on the state-backed China Movie Channel, the co-producer of the film. Sid Ganis, whose Jiaflix Enterprise is also a co-producer of Michael Bay's latest installment in the franchise, had unveiled the program earlier as an effort to cast Chinese actors to play four roles in the film.

Beijing’s latest move in curbing musical talent-shows –which the Chinese media has quickly dubbed as the Han Ge Ling, or the “Song Restriction Order”–is the latest in a series of clampdowns on television content during the past decade. The most recent instance was the Han Yu Ling ("Entertainment Restriction Order") in 2011, when the authorities called for satellite broadcasters to reduce “entertainment programs”–largely taken as a reference to dating or The Apprentice-style reality TV programs--to fewer than three shows a week during peak evening hours.

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