China Media Watchdog Examining Ratings System for TV Shows

Empress of China Still - H 2015
Hunan TV

A TV classification system would help U.S. content providers seeking clarity in the Chinese market.

China's media watchdog is examining a classification system for television series, which would see controversial TV shows shown on designated channels at later time slots, a move that could resolve a looming impasse over censorship.

"China has entered the research stage for rating system for dramas," Tian Jin, deputy director of the State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) told the Legal Daily newspaper.

"We are studying the materials for TV dramas ratings from more than 10 countries and regions. Not only are we considering about certain time period, but also some specialized designated channels."

A classification system would greatly help U.S. and other overseas companies trying to get their shows into China, the world's fastest-growing major TV market, because it would provide clarity about what the censors will allow.

There have been similar calls for a ratings system for movies.

Earlier this month, SAPPRFT ordered Agent Carter and Empire to be taken down from online streaming sites, as part of significant new guidelines for foreign content in China.

New foreign dramas looking to be shown in China must present the full first season, with subtitles, to the censorship board for clearance.

The authorities are reportedly considering three categories: shows unsuitable for minors, those suitable with parental advisory and those appropriate for all audiences to see.

"The most difficult job is to draw these lines scientifically, meticulously and reasonably," Tian said.

He said the controversial historical television series The Empress of China was removed and re-edited due to complaints by the public that some scenes were unsuitable for minors.

The show was pulled in December as the cleavage on display was deemed to shocking for Chinese audiences. Re-edited to remove the offending decolletage, the show was put back on air, though there were many complaints online that the show was a lot less entertaining.

However, Tian said the revised version of Empress won the approval of the wider audience.

"Our creative work, film and television series should distribute China's core values and pass on China's beauty," Tian said.

Chen Xinxin, a research director at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences who specializes in media law, said that any rating system had to be suited to China.

"In terms of law, we have to protect our health and the well-being of our minors. At the same time, adults have the right to watch what they want. The existing review system for television has not struck the right balance between the two," said Chen.

"Most TV stations do not separate programs suited for minors from those suited for adults only, which is why the criteria are being reviewed," Chen said.

Chen said a better rating system, adjustments in the time of broadcast and designating channels for programs with viewer discretion, were fundamental parts of the solution.

Chinese online video players, such as Tencent, Alibaba, Youku Tudou, Baidu's iQiyi and, have been buying Hollywood content, but everyone is waiting to see what the regulatory future holds.

Among the big content deals made last year has been news that Alibaba had struck a deal with Lionsgate to bring the Twilight saga and other films to China, while The Simpsons came to China for the first time via a Fox deal with online video firm Sohu.

In September, SAPPRFT said it must approve all foreign TV shows before they can be posted on video sites and that sites must pull unapproved shows at some point early this year. The government is also currently engaged in a major crackdown on what it deems as morally questionable content such as sex and violence.

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