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SARFT Tightens Regulations on “Excessive Entertainment”

"If You Are The One" Courtesy of Reuters

Times are hard in the world of Chinese reality TV. If You Are The One (Fei Cheng Wu Rao), China’s mega-popular answer to reality TV dating shows, has been gradually feeling the pinch of SARTF’s tightening regulations on entertainment broadcasting. Edward Wong of The New York Times reports in the latest in a series of articles entitled “Culture and Control“:

[R]egulators formulated a sweeping policy that takes effect on Sunday and effectively wipes out scores of entertainment shows on prime-time television. The authorities evidently determined that trends inspired by “If You Are the One” and a popular talent show, “Super Girl,” had gone too far, and they responded with a policy to curb what they call “excessive entertainment.” That a dating show could help set off the toughest crackdown on television in years exposes the growing tension at the heart of the Communist Party’s control of the entertainment industry. For decades, the party has pushed television networks here to embrace the market, but conservative cadres have grown increasingly fearful of the kinds of programs that court audiences, draw advertising and project a global image not shaped by the state. Television, after all, occupies a singular position in the state’s media arsenal: with its 1.2 billion viewers and more than 3,000 channels, it is the party’s greatest vehicle for transmitting propaganda, whether through the evening news or staid historical dramas.

Still, If You Are The One hasn’t met quite the same fate as Super Girls. The one-time uncontested queen of Chinese reality TV and subject of Jian Yi‘s documentary Super, Girls! was cancelled last year amid a whirl of audience anguish. It’s the same sweep of regulations that ended Super Girls, though, that is now reigning in a wider spectrum of media and popular culture. Wong reports:

The tightening of television is at the fore of a major new effort to control culture overseen by President Hu Jintao that is also permeating film, publishing, the Internet and the performing arts.

Jian Yi films "Super, Girls!"

If You Are The One and Super Girls, both seemingly as innocuous as their American counterparts (The Bachelor, American Idol, etc.) have evidently pressed political buttons and brought to light some sensitive issues. From the democratic voting process of Super Girls (in a fashion similar to American Idol, fans were able to vote for their favored singers) to frank talk of a younger generation’s sex and money woes on If You Are The One, the controversy surrounding these shows has proven more than purely spectacular.

The censorship to If You Are The One, once lauded as the raunchiest, most irreverent star in the Chinese TV galaxy, has been a long time coming:

Fans of “If You Are the One” immediately noticed the changes when the June 26 episode aired. Most obvious was the addition of a third host – Huang Han was a mother who taught psychology at the local party school. All the female contestants had been replaced. The new ones were more subdued. So were the male contestants. And there was no mention of their incomes. “We started to choose older participants who have a stronger desire for marriage,” Mr. Wang said. Each episode now had to be reviewed at least six times in-house before broadcast, one person said. The producers still asked the hosts to steer talk toward social topics, but more subtly. “The comments made by contestants weren’t as incisive as before,” said Guo Wei, 34, a longtime fan.

The effects of this censorship, apart from disappointing a devoted fan-base, are yet to be fully felt in the Chinese TV world and beyond. The internet, where state grip is slightly less ubiquitous, is proving a crucial tool in keeping entertainment alive and accessible.

Mr. Wang said he hoped the censors, when they whittle down the entertainment shows, keep in mind that “If You Are the One” made changes when asked. The show now tries to win ratings not through fiery dialogue, but by promoting itself online and bringing on overseas Chinese contestants. On the show’s Web site, all the episodes from the show’s first half-year have been deleted. “Our show,” he said, “is one that obeys the rules.”


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