China Relaxes Some Film Censorship Requirements (Report)

Illustration by: Edel Rodriguez

The media regulator will now only require film summaries to be submitted for censorship approval before production, rather than full scripts, for select film categories.

In what will surely be welcome news to film producers at home and abroad, China’s state media regulator has announced that it is eliminating 20 items from its list of oversight responsibilities, which will likely loosen the country’s infamous censorship system to a yet-to-be determined degree.

The State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SGAPPRFT) -- responsible for overseeing all manner of media and entertainment in the country -- announced that it is attempting to streamline government functions involved in approving cultural content.

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The most promising change announced by the body for Chinese filmmakers involves government approval of scripts.

As the state-backed news organ Xinhua reported, "the administration will stop managing radio plays and relax censorship over films, adding that summaries for such productions will still be subject to public notification."

Previously, before any film could go into production in China, filmmakers were required by law to get full-script approval by the SGAPPRFT. Now, apparently, for some categories of films, script summaries will be sufficient for approval. What exactly a "summary" entails and specifically what criteria will determine the categories that require full scripts versus summary approval is not yet fully clear.

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The regulator is also moving to decentralize some TV oversight, which may give regional TV networks more leeway. According to the Xinhua report: "Provincial departments will now be responsible for censoring domestic TV programs that feature foreign producers." Previously, such oversight was centralized. 

SGAPPRFT also eliminated the need to get approval for the import of "equipment, film and state property needed for movie productions by Chinese and foreign partners," Xinhua said.

Chinese regulations are often written in a decidedly vague way, giving the government wiggle room to reinterpret policy as is deemed necessary upon implementation. The full extent of the reforms likely won’t be known until they are put into practice.