China media regulator cited for misuse of funds

SARFT named China's second-most corrupt agency

BEIJING -- China's financial watchdogs have named the State Administration of Radio Film and Television the nation's second-most corrupt government agency.

The China National Audit Office said SARFT had 144.67 million yuan ($21.29 million) "in problematic funds in violation of financial management rules," the state-run English-language China Daily newspaper said on Friday.

On Monday, an online chart illustrating the annual audit and naming SARFT -- and the No. 1 and No. 3 offenders, the State Bureau of Survey and Mapping and the Ministry of Culture -- had disappeared from the China Daily's Web site, apparently nixed by censors.

SARFT -- which falls under the direct control of the State Council, China's cabinet -- supervises China Central Television, the China Film Group Corp., the Film Bureau, China Radio International and appears recently to have gained an increased influence over IPTV.

The Ministry of Culture manages the oversight of much of the distribution of home entertainment such as DVDs. The Ministry was cited by the audit for recently having mismanaged 133.39 million yuan ($19.62 million).

SARFT and the Ministry of Culture both already are under international pressure to loosen their control of the import and distribution of cultural content. The pressure comes largely from the Motion Picture Association and the World Trade Organization, which in November ruled China was in violation of free trade.

Beijing is widely promoting the development of China's own cultural industries in hopes of controlling its own image in the media, both at home and overseas. The central government has until December to show it is making progress towards complying with WTO rules.

The battle over imported films' access to China's market has heated up as its boxoffice grows, rising 43% last year to $909 milllion in a trend that is expected to improve this year.  "Avatar" made more money in China than any territory other than the U.S., but Beijing still limits to 20 the number of imported films allowed to share in ticket sales, with an additional handful of 3D films allowed to skirt the import cap.

The CNAO audit was praised by various academics cited by the China Daily for revealing that, overall, 200 billion yuan ($29 billion) in funds were misused by government departments.

The audit also included details of 21 government-invested projects, the budget enforcement of 56 central departments and the analysis of 36 major cases tracked since 2008.

Ren Jianming, director of the anti-corruption and governance research center at Tsinghua University in Beijing said the disclosure of the budget enforcement of each central department is "the most valuable content" in this year's report.

"In the past, the CNAO only reported the general situation of budget enforcement of all the central departments," Ren told China Daily, adding that this year's report would put great pressure on departments with problems of extravagance and waste.

Last year, CNAO's audit was criticized for failing to name individuals and government agencies that misappropriated funds and state assets.

"This [year's] report was made without trying to avoid or cover up (any misdeeds), but (with an aim to) disclose and reflect the general situation and common problems," Guo Caiyun, deputy director of the general office of the CNAO told China Daily.
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