Censorship signals

China cracks down on pics

China’s film biz may be forced to censor itself or submit to tougher regulations after the Propaganda Ministry warned that local pics have too much swearing and concentrate on divorce and love affairs.

A document read out by management to employees at production companies and other entertainment industry-related businesses said contemporary movies were not good for the nation’s health and did not show the true spirit of the Chinese people. Industry sources read the Propaganda Ministry warning as a sign of a further crackdown on movie freedom.

No copies of the statement text were available: It was given to senior biz figures with instructions that it be read to but not distributed among staff. Sources said the document also had been endorsed by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, the head of state broadcaster CCTV and the Film Bureau.

The comments are in line with President Hu Jintao’s aim of creating a “harmonious society.”

The statement singled out a number of films for censure, including “Cell Phone,” by Feng Xiaogang, helmer of “The Banquet,” Hong Kong’s foreign-language Oscar hopeful.

How to interpret the move has left bizzers scratching their heads.

Ministries often announce policy initiatives as political gestures, only to ignore them in practice. Other times, they bring in new measures without committing them to paper and public scrutiny.

Latest statement may be part of a wider tidying-up ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

But it comes at a time when China is ramping up movie production to levels unprecedented in recent years, something that by necessity requires filmmakers to tackle a wider range of subjects.

The country is on course to produce some 350 features this year, compared with some 260 in 2005.

Observers also point out that bad language and adult material could be addressed when China finally launches a classification and ratings system for films. Such a system has long been discussed, but it currently seems a lower priority than other movie industry measures.

In the absence of a ratings system, all movies, local or foreign imports, are either judged suitable for all auds or none.

(Patrick Frater in Hollywood contributed to this report.)

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