China toons out U.S. in primetime

Evening ban on imports widens; horror pics under scrutiny

Mickey Mouse, SpongeBob and other cartoon favorites have been officially given their primetime walking papers in China while, in a separate move, Harry Potter and chums have charmed their way around a potential ban.

The move against imported animated shows was confirmed this week when authorities forbid all foreign cartoons from airing 5-9 p.m. The new regulation expands an earlier ban, imposed in August 2006, which kept foreign cartoons off the air 5-8 p.m.

"Pokeman" also has been impacted by the decision, according to reports.

"This is another unfortunate example of barriers to the Chinese entertainment market," MPAA chief Dan Glickman said.

Authorities said that the move is designed to protect China's own cartoon industry. The initiative also increases the total amount of domestically produced programming that channels aimed at children should air from 60% to 70%.

In other regulatory developments, Harry Potter, Shrek and E.T. are among the characters to have escaped possible banishment under a decree that stipulated that products featuring horror themes, specifically those aimed at children, be banned for home video.

The Xinhua News Agency re-ported Wednesday that while Harry Potter and other titles may get a home video release, heavy cutting can be expected. "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" was cut so heavily — including the scene that introduces Gary Oldman's title character — that some viewers said they couldn't follow the plot.

Although the proclamation was targeted at horror, magic themes have long been sticky for Chinese censors. Along with the Potter cuts, magic themes kept "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" out of Chinese cinemas altogether.

The rule banning cartoons from primetime comes under a completely separate order and follows a State Administration of Radio, Film and Television statement earlier this month that said it had completed various assessment and implementation plans, and asked provincial radio, film and television regulators to comment before Feb. 20, when the new regulation was issued, although the new regulations were issued Feb. 19.

A SARFT statement also said that special funds will be made available for further development of the domestic animation industry but was not specific as to the amount or means of distribution.

Foreign cartoons have been a hot-button issue for Chinese regulators, who have regularly pointed to the need for more and better domestic animation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.