China censors: You gotta accentuate the positive

SARFT crackdown hits primetime

China's broadcast censors will tighten restrictions on primetime TV dramas beginning Feb. 1, state media reported Monday, limiting satellite stations to airing shows that the Communist party's propaganda arm believes paint China in a positive light.

In the latest in a string of media clampdowns ahead of the National People's Congress this year and the Beijing Olympics in 2008, an official at the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television announced a new four-step TV censorship process, the Xinhua news agency said.

The censorship program that SARFT will roll out from February to August appears designed to ensure that the central propaganda department of the Chinese Communist Party will have the final say about what airs to the nation's nearly 400 million television households.

"The administration will create a sound environment and condition for TV series productions this year to ensure the quality," Wang Weiping, SARFT's vice director in charge of TV, told provincial broadcasters gathered at a Friday meeting in the capital. Satellite broadcasters should only be allowed to show "ethically inspiring TV series" during primetime, Wang said.

Under the new censorship, each show seeking to air on a satellite channel will require approval from their provincial SARFT, the provincial propaganda department of the central SARFT in Beijing and, finally, the central CPC propaganda department, Xinhua said.

"The restrictions will ensure a better TV environment," Wang said.

No notice about the new rules was available on the SARFT Web site, and calls to its television department went unanswered.

In a report in the Beijing Morning News, Wang complained that some 6,000 episodes of TV dramas went practically unwatched in China last year. He said it was time for China to stem the tide of low-quality programming, including shows whose plots are too similar.

On Jan. 12, SARFT director general Wang Taihua announced a crackdown on reality TV in China (HR 1/12), and, in September, SARFT banned from China's primetime any cartoons made overseas.