China's Anti-Corruption Campaign Takes Aim at Entertainment Industry

Illustration by: Lars Leetaru

Senior Communist Party official says the wide-ranging anti-graft campaign will focus on TV and film.

China's ongoing wide-ranging campaign against corruption will take aim at the film and TV industry this year, a senior Communist Party graft investigator said last week, part of a new austere climate in the world's second-biggest film entertainment market.

The television and film industry is "no pure land," Li Qiufang, a member of the party corruption watchdog the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), said during an online press conference on the CCDI website.

Li also is head of the CCDI disciplinary inspection group within the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT).

Hollywood is currently working to make inroads in the booming market, and while the crackdown is unlikely to have a direct impact on U.S. studios, it will affect the Chinese partners they must collaborate with to gain access to the country.

The campaign has already had an impact on the TV business, with many senior producers and anchors from the state broadcaster CCTV becoming enmeshed in an ongoing probe into graft at the station.

Jia Yueting — the head of one of China's leading private entertainment companies, LeTV, which owns The Expendables co-financier LeVision Pictures — was forced to deny links to a high-level corruption investigation in the coal-rich province of Shanxi after widespread rumors he was on the run in the U.S.

Last year, when Li Ming, the 47-year-old CEO of Beijing-based film company Galloping Horse, died suddenly of a heart attack in January, there was speculation that he died while he was in police custody under interrogation as part of a corruption investigation.

Since President Xi Jinping in late 2012 made his pledge to root out graft in China, whether it involves massive wealth accumulated by the powerful "tigers" of the elite or backhanders palmed over to the "flies" at the bottom of the Communist Party, he has taken some significant scalps.

The biggest is Bo Xilai, the former party boss in Dalian and Chongqing who was purged last year and is serving a life sentence for corruption and abuse of power while his wife sits in jail for murder.

Since Bo, the biggest "tiger" is former oil boss and security tsar Zhou Yongkang, who was a member of the party's all-powerful politburo standing committee until 2012. His trial is expected to take place any day.

The group had inspected the TV, film and press industries last year to get to know how and where corruption was usually committed, according to the cadre.

Li said the purchase and marketing of TV series and films, grand gala events, the procurement of equipment, advertising, news reporting and overseas bureaus were the fields that were most open to corruption.

"Based on what was learned last year, the inspection group will deepen its anti-corruption inspection by handling these fields one by one," Li said.

The discipline agency also will promote the introduction of regulations this year to deter staff of the industry from corruption, Li said.

The crackdown is part of a broader austerity campaign in China that has had a swingeing impact on the entertainment industry.

The world's most watched TV show, the Spring Festival gala on CCTV to mark the Year of the Goat, will this year be a frugal and more somber affair than usual to reflect the new morality crusade.