Sumner Redstone offered a small but notable word of caution to the Chinese government on Wednesday night, marking the first time Redstone has openly questioned regulators’ policies in the country.
Speaking at an Asia Society event honoring him in Los Angeles, the Viacom and CBS mogul offered enthusiasm on Chinese expansion but said that all the opportunities “will only be possible if the governments of Asia, and China in particular, honor these long-term partnerships and maintain consistent and open markets.”
He also encouraged “a steady regulatory hand that recognized and encourages investment and cultural outreach.”
A governmental system that critics say is overly, and sometimes arbitrarily, restrictive has hampered the efforts of media congloms in China.
Studios have had a number of high-profile run-ins with Chinese regulators over hot-button movies like “The Da Vinci Code.”
Viacom has run into roadblocks with Nickelodeon programming. Last year, regulatory authorities invoked a law that prevents foreign media from airing children’s programming in primetime. The move forced Viacom to air Nick content in less desirable timeslots.
Conglom does operate a local version of its MTV brand in China.
Redstone’s comments were mild compared to those of other critics. But the willingness of Redstone — who in previous engagements, and elsewhere in the speech, remained upbeat about the possibilities of Chinese expansion — to articulate even a muted rebuke signaled a potential new direction in Hollywood’s attitude toward governmental oversight in China.
China is critical to U.S. congloms as the opportunities for domestic growth become more limited. Indeed, Redstone spent most of the speech elaborating on his feeling that he’s “truly excited about the future of the media business in Asia.”
But international experts say regulatory authorities have become more hardline at the very moment they were expected to become more open.
The experts cite a number of recent examples. Companies, they say, are now prohibited from operating joint ventures with local outfits.
They also say that the rules for what passes muster with censors can be unpredictable and unfair.