China Widens Online TV Censorship Rules To Include Hong Kong Shows

Hong Kong Skyline - H 2013
Gavin Hellier/Jai/Corbis

Hong Kong Skyline - H 2013

Hong Kong TV dramas now have to deal with the same regulations as overseas shows.

China's broadcasting regulator has included online Hong Kong TV shows in a series of new censorship rules where regulators must approve all foreign TV content before they can be screened online.

In September, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) said it must okay all foreign TV shows before they can be posted on video sites, and producers must present the whole season for approval before it can be screened.

The ruling means that online sites like Youku Tudou, Baidu's iQIYI, and Tencent and others who want to screen shows like Game of Thrones, The Newsroom and Band of Brothers in China must first submit the whole series of shows for censorship.

There was some confusion as to why Hong Kong dramas were included in the rules, as Hong Kong is a special administrative region (SAR) since it reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 and the entertainment industry in the former colony is closely linked to the mainland. Hong Kong movies and TV dramas qualify as Chinese co-productions under an economic partnership deal.

Relations between Beijing and Hong Kong were strained late last year after large protests calling for Beijing to allow more democracy in the territory.

A spokesperson for Youku Tudou confirmed that the company had received a notice from the regulator to pull online streams of Hong Kong TV dramas for review.

"We received the notice about two to three weeks ago. We are complying with the rule," the spokesperson told the Global Times.
The Youku spokesperson said Hong Kong TV shows were also put under the "overseas production" category, and that they will also be reviewed before broadcast.

Youku Tudou had signed an exclusive contract with Hong Kong broadcaster Television Broadcasts (TVB) to broadcast their productions, but so far this year, no TVB dramas have been shown on mainland video sites.

Some commentators online said the half-year delay would encourage people to watch pirated copies, while others said it would give a boost for domestic content.

In 2011, the TVB drama When Heaven Burns became the first Hong Kong show to be blacklisted by mainland Chinese regulators in over 20 years, possibly because it featured cannibalism.

In 2013, The Ultimate Addiction about people working in the financial world was banned because it featured slogans of the Falun Gong religious movement, which the Chinese government considers a dangerous cult and has been banned there since 1999. The new rules have hit shows such as Agent Carter and Shameless, while last year The Big Bang Theory, The Good Wife and Homeland were removed from online video websites in the Chinese mainland.