Does China still see television as a tool for influence and not a source of entertainment?

29 Apr

During the 2009 Olympic Games in Beijing, Chinese TV stations were instructed to delay live broadcasts by 10 seconds. The purpose of the policy was to give censors time to react in case free-Tibet demonstrators or others staged political protects.  As a result, Obama’s inaugural speech was cut off in Chinese-language translations in its communism-related references. Seeing television as a means of spreading propaganda, it can be seen that the Chinese government exercises a particular degree of control over local entertainment, however to what extent?

As ratings go up, so does government scrutiny. In China, popularity and influence are closely linked which perhaps worry the government when a programme appears to have gathered a significant following and is deemed to exercise a certain influence. Wo Ju (“Dwelling Narrowness”) was a drama discussing topics like China’s spiraling real-estate prices and local-government corruption. Considerably sensitive in its content and having attracted a large following, it was taken off the air midway through the first season.

In 2011, a popular Chinese version of American Idol “Super Girl” was banned. Although the government cited the reason as because the programme often ran past its allotted time, some believe that the authorities were actually concerned the audience may get inspired by the voting system and American-style democracy, likening the viewer participation in the singing contest to political decisions.

Due to China generally viewed as an atheist country, there is no mention of religion on TV or radio. Television shows that have been banned or other potentially controversial topics are also refrained from being aired. 

Looking at Benjamin Haas, a foreigner who went on a dating show’s experience, his segment was never aired and was told by the director that he was censored because he was successful. There is a particular degree of national sentiment in China and while seeing the two foreign contestants before fail is entertaining, the image of an American male dating a Chinese girl is much more controversial. It is a common sighting in everyday life but perhaps the government does not wish the encourage this. One of the girls on “If you are the One”, Ma Nua was made infamous for having said “I’d rather cry in the back of a BMW” in response to whether she would like to go on a date with a contestant and ride on the back of his bicycle. Her departure from the show possibly indicates that television channels do not wish to promote a materialistic nature in society, demonstrating the subtle influence television always has in the public. Thus, perhaps it can be drawn that it is not completely ridiculous that the Chinese authorities still see the television as a medium with the ability to influence public perception but it might be beneficial towards the society for the government to gradually adapt towards a more open-minded approach.  

In regards to movies, following the United States, China has become the world’s second-largest film market. Despite careful vetting to meet China’s strict censorship requirements, Django Unchained was abruptly pulled from Chinese theatres due to ‘technical problems’ earlier this month. Even Rush Hour 3 had been banned, despite featuring Hong Kong-born Jackie Chan who is well celebrated in the country. The film had attracted negative attention over reference to Triad gang members. In the absence of a movie ratings system to decide whether a film is too violent for underage children, it can be seen how censorship is of fundamental importance. American moviemakers have also reportedly allowed government officials onto movie sets to monitor the filming in movies such as “Iron Man 3” which will be aired in China including scenes featuring China’s top actress, Fan Bingbing. It is interesting to note how the movie has been tailored towards the Chinese audience as the actress has been edited out of screening in other countries. Looking at its strict attitude towards foreign films and websites, it can be seen that China’s lift on its 3 year IMDb ban was a pleasant surprise and could perhaps even give way to room for change.

Sources:
At 11th Hour, China’s Censors Bar ‘Django Unchained’. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/12/business/media/django-unchained-pulled-from-chinas-theaters.html?pagewanted=all

Chinese media censor Obama’s inaugural speech. http://articles.latimes.com/2009/jan/22/world/fg-china-censor22

China’s New TV Censorship May be a Sign that State Control is Losing its Grip. http://www.worldcrunch.com/chinas-new-tv-censorship-may-be-sign-state-control-losing-its-grip/culture-society/china-s-new-tv-censorship-may-be-a-sign-that-state-control-is-losing-its-grip/c3s4006/#.UX4_TyvwJG4

China Unexpectedly Lifts Ban on IMDb Wesbite. http://www.theverge.com/2013/3/7/4074332/china-lifts-ban-on-imdb-movie-website

Fan Bingbing Cut out of Iron Man 3… Except in China.
http://thediplomat.com/asia-life/2013/03/fan-bingbing-cut-out-of-iron-man-3-except-in-china/

I was almost a Chinese dating show star. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/08/04/i_was_almost_a_chinese_dating_show_star?page=0,0

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2 Responses to “Does China still see television as a tool for influence and not a source of entertainment?”

  1. pcm1c12 May 1, 2013 at 10:06 am #

    Besides the television I think especially on the internet the Chinese government has quite some control. The often discussed great firewall is obviously a great example for this. But what is less known, is China’s social media censorship. The great firewall is blocking foreign sites, but for a government who wants control of online speech thats clearly not enough.
    All blog services in China must have a internal censorship team, filtering sensitive posts on the guide lines of the government. But according to recent research there should be some automation tools censoring posts as well. What is interesting is that in sensitive debates people can talk all they want if it’s in favor of the government. If it’s not, the government might filter posts and change the news cycle in a certain way. Just by revising and filtering posts discussions might be, as on the television, easily manipulated. The Chinese media seems to be under more control than a lot of people think.

  2. jc35g10 May 14, 2013 at 4:15 pm #

    Nowhere in the world is media control stronger, and more obvious, than in China. It is unlikely that this will change in the near future, despite the fact that television and the internet is so crucial to modern life. However, perhaps with the arrival of applications such as Instagram, which is currently able to be accessed in China, control may slowly begin to loosen with the introduction and trial of other such social media devices and television shows. If this was to happen, it would probably be because of three factors; privatisation of media ownership where freer journalism could occur, growing market competition in China’s media industry which would force and encourage journalists to engage in topics that may not be usual or greater availability of knowledge from abroad which is not state controlled. With globalisation, it is not unrealistic that new information and media could reach Chinese populations without being able to be controlled by the state, as people who have family members who have migrated will find out facts via the telephone and other methods of communication. Therefore, I feel that it is only a matter of time before the state is unable to be a rigorous as it currently is in controlling all aspects of the media, and when this happens, I feel that Chinese society could change dramatically.

    Source: Esarey, A., 2006, ‘Speak No Evil: Mass Media Control in Contemporary China’, Freedom House, New York

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