Cai takes over at SARFT, reports directly to cabinet

China has named Cai Fuchao, deputy mayor and propaganda czar of Beijing, as head of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, the powerful media watchdog.

Cai, 60, replaces Wang Taihua, who has overseen rapid growth in the Chinese film and TV business in the past six years. The appointment comes before next month’s annual parliament, the National People’s Congress.

SARFT answers directly to China’s cabinet, the State Council. As the country’s main censor, it effectively decides what gets on TV and into theaters. It rules on the 20 foreign films that are released in China on a revenue-sharing basis under its strict quota system.

Cai will play a key role in many projects such as the streamlining of the broadcast system, greater network convergence and increasing the watchdog’s mandate to include online and mobile content.

SARFT also decides on foreign ownership of Chinese media, a long contentious issue as major media groups such as News Corp. have tried, and failed, to make headway in the country.

Cai has worked in a number of media posts, including the editorship of the Beijing Daily newspaper.

Next month, Chinese regulators are set to address the World Trade Organization’s demands for China to open up its film market to greater competition, something that will please Hollywood and others eager to gain a stake in the booming biz.

The WTO says China’s system of importing and distributing movies breaks international trade rules, and the country is widely expected to increase foreign access to the domestic market. This is expected to be a difficult transition for China, even though the local biz has never been in such good shape.

China notched up a record $1.5 billion at the box office last year thanks to hits such as “Avatar” and helmer Feng Xiaogang’s “Aftershock,” which raked in $100 million to become the highest-grossing local film of all time.

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