Chinese TV Viewers Brace for Deluge of Dull Propaganda

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Chinese President Xi Jinping

Beijing's media regulators have ordered local television channels to avoid airing shows that are "too entertaining" during the lead-up to the 70th anniversary of the PRC.

A truism of the streaming era is that TV viewers are spoiled for choice like never before. This reality will not apply in China for the rest of 2019, however.

Late last week, Beijing's media regulators ordered local television channels to avoid broadcasting shows that are "too entertaining" during the current lead-up to the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic in October.

Instead of fan favorites like costume dramas, rom-coms and variety shows, local channels must pick from a list of 86 approved programs, the regulator said. The guidelines will remain in place for at least 100 days.

The list of officially recommended programming focuses on "the different stages of the Chinese nation's struggle for a brighter future and sincere paeans toward the motherland, the people and heroes," according to the Beijing News.

State-backed news outlet Global Times highlighted some exemplary shows from the list, such as Lovely China (Keai de Zhongguo), which tells the story of "revolutionary martyr Fang Zhimin, who devoted his life to the liberation of the Chinese people"; and documentary show Diplomatic Situation, which promotes the PRC's foreign policy triumphs, such as "the negotiations between China and the UK on handing back Hong Kong to its motherland."

"During the 100-day period, each channel is required to unify with the 'Outstanding programs of National Radio and Television Administration to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of China,'" the regulator said.

China's Internet censors have deleted and blocked most commentary about the rules on local social media. A post from Sohu News about the new guidelines on China's Twitter-like social media service Weibo attracted hundreds of comments within hours, but censors have since deactivated the comments section, making them unreadable.

Some posts have squeaked through the censors' web, though, and they suggest that local TV viewers are less than enthused about the state's "non entertaining" programming lineup.

"So [the government] has a birthday and that means we're not allowed to watch TV? That's really great," wrote one commentator.

Another said that the government's CCTV news broadcasts will be the only reliable programming, but they joked that the news coverage would be more predictable than the plot of a rom-com. "For the first 10 minutes of the news, our leaders are all very busy," they said. "In the second 10 minutes, our people are all very good. In the last 10 minutes, all foreign countries are in total disaster."

With the politically sensitive anniversary fast approaching, Chinese regulators have drastically tightened their grip over creative expression in the country. At least six major Chinese films have been blocked from release over suspected surprise censorship complaints, compounding an already challenging business climate for local film studios. In May, television and radio stations were ordered to play the Chinese national anthem every morning until the end of 2019.