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China wall crumbles on media

Tube dramas, Web ordered to avoid forbidden subjects

BEIJING — More bad news for Western media congloms vying to break into China’s lucrative market: China’s communist party has again tightened its grip on the industry with a raft of rules for TV dramas and news, while Internet orgs have pledged to censor indecent content.

The State Administration of Radio, Film & Television (Sarft) has ordered officials who vet TV dramas to make sure producers stick to the script and avoid forbidden subjects.

Historical soap operas dealing with political or military issues described by Sarft as “major or sensitive” must get government approval. If they vary from the script, they risk being banned.

Sarft also told local TV stations to stick to international news content provided by state broadcaster China Central Television, and to avoid foreign sources, such as footage gleaned from satellite broadcasts.

The rules come just a week after new restrictions on foreign magazines setting up in China — one of the factors behind the banning of Rolling Stone magazine last month after just one issue.

Last year the government froze foreign investment in satellite TV and other media outlets.

The Web sites of some of China’s main publications, including state news agency Xinhua, China Daily and the People’s Daily, agreed to eradicate pornography and violence on the Web.

Using language redolent of Cold War-era Communism, state news agency Xinhua reported 11 news Web sites had “vehemently” supported an initiative by the state-run media to censor themselves.

“Chinese Web sites are capable and confident of resisting indecent Internet content,” Xinhua said.

China has around 700,000 portals and more than 111 million Internet users. The government reportedly has 40,000 officials monitoring the Internet and has jailed cyber-dissidents.

Earlier this month, 14 Beijing-based portals, including Yahoo’s Chinese Web site, Sina.com, Sohu.com and Baidu.com, said they were blocking content described as “unhealthy.”

Xinhua said the Web sites had pledged to back President Hu Jintao’s concept of socialist morality, called the “Eight Honors and Disgraces,” aimed at promoting a return to old-fashioned moral principles in the face of rampant consumerism.

In related news, commerce minister Bo Xilai reiterated China’s commitment to crushing film piracy to help Hollywood and its own industry.

Bo said Tuesday he understood Hollywood’s desire to release more films in China, but said the domestic market needed to be taken into account.

“Some friends tell me quite sharply that nowadays we spend most of our time watching Sylvester Stallone. But actually his kung fu is no match for the Monkey King’s,” quipped Bo, referring to the mythical Chinese monkey god.

Bo warned that not all Hollywood pics were welcome in China and singled out longtime bugbear horror for criticism.

“Some friends have even mentioned that there are too many crime movies and there is too much horror, which is not fit for youths to watch. If they indulge themselves in these movies, it may affect them psychologically,” he said.

His comments came days before Hu makes his first state visit to Washington, and on the same day as Chinese trade officials meeting their U.S. counterparts in Washington agreed to crack down on piracy of computer programs, part of a deal aimed at smoothing ruffled American feathers ahead of Hu’s visit. The trade gap of $202 billion annoys many U.S. legislators.

Hu meets Bush in Washington on April 20 and piracy will be one of the top issues on the agenda.

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