×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

China’s Media, Entertainment Controls May Not Ease After National Party Congress

Ebb and flow is a natural process, politically and financially, in the Chinese media and tech sectors. But sometimes it takes longer for the tide to turn.

Over the past several months, the Chinese government has ushered in a series of new controls over media and entertainment. These include introducing a cybersecurity law; slapping restrictions on live streaming and on the use of virtual private networks to get around China’s so-called Great Firewall; banning TV shows based on foreign formats; and requiring online firms to halt their own news-gathering activities and instead source their news from state outlets.

The crackdown comes in the run-up to the National Party Congress of the ruling Communist Party, a highly sensitive and symbolic gathering that takes place once every five years and is scheduled to start Oct. 18. Experience says that such tightening ahead of the congress is not unusual as the party tries to ensure that no dissent or questioning of its monopoly on power mars the proceedings.

The question is whether regulators will loosen their grip once the congress is over, as has often happened in the past. This time, some China-watchers say that a relaxation seems unlikely, in part because the congress is expected to confirm another five-year term for President Xi Jinping, who has become increasingly authoritarian in office.

“The regulatory crackdown has been ratcheting up for many months,” says Matthew Dresden of law firm Harris Bricken, which has a China practice. “I don’t see much changing in the media and entertainment space, except for maybe an easing on news reporting.”

There are at least three reasons for thinking that China’s latest restrictions on media, entertainment and technology will persist even after the party congress wraps up.

One is the huge increase in internet access and use in the world’s most populous country. When digital media were small and insignificant, supervision was loose and uncertain. But now that most Chinese citizens own smartphones and have access to social media and streaming video, regulation has been tightened and formalized. For example, a recently published rule states that online dramas are subject to the same controls as state-run TV.

Also, the Chinese government sees regulation, sanctions and pronouncements as effective tools for reining in rampant or unhealthy growth in media and entertainment. China’s search-engine leader, Baidu, was punished for skewing the rankings of search results and allowing the false advertising of medical products. Digital giant Tencent quickly restricted the number of hours per day that minors are allowed to play its popular “Honor of Kings” online game after government mouthpiece the People’s Daily described the game as “poison.”

And foreign companies, eager to protect their positions and exploit the Chinese market, have largely fallen in line. Apple recently ditched downloads of VPNs from the Chinese iteration of its iTunes store. Amazon made its cloud-computing service compliant with Chinese censorship requirements. Facebook has launched a localized version of its Moments photo-sharing app, which requires it to place servers in China and, presumably, provide regulators with a back door.

All of this encourages Beijing to carry on with its clampdown.

“Fairly often, the authorities state their position, which allows them to crack down at any time they choose, albeit not necessarily immediately,” says Stanley Rosen, a professor at the University of Southern California who specializes in Chinese politics and society. “However, if it proves to be successful, [meaning] that the pushback [against the new rules] is manageable, as currently seems to be the case, it may well continue.”

New cybersecurity and film-promotion laws that require the media to promote “core Socialist values” are so vague that authorities can use them in a multitude of ways.

“I would expect to see creative use of the recent cybersecurity law to continue to go after social media,” Rosen says. “After the relative emasculation of [microblogging site] Weibo, there are aspects of WeChat — using it for news reporting, to cite one recent restriction — that the [Communist Party] will move to control better.” WeChat, with functions ranging from messaging and online payments to bicycle-sharing and news groups, has become China’s primary online platform, with more than 900 million users worldwide at the end of June.

The Chinese government appears to fear connected media for its ability to nurture challenges to its authority. But it has proven adept at harnessing technology to create a surveillance society.

It has also kept Chinese cyberspace largely free from overseas competition. Facebook, Twitter, Google and Netflix remain blocked or unavailable in China. That has allowed domestic digital players like Alibaba and Tencent to become behemoths that are now using their vast financial resources and genuinely smart technologies to expand abroad. At home, though, they remain subject to the Chinese government’s controls and restrictions — and those don’t look likely to be eased anytime soon.

More Biz

  • Alan Horn Bill Tanner

    Alan Horn to Keynote Variety Business Managers Elite Breakfast, Bill Tanner to Be Honored

    Bill Tanner will be recognized with Variety’s 2019 Business Managers Elite Award at the annual Business Managers Elite Breakfast presented by City National Bank, which takes place in Beverly Hills on Nov. 13. Co-chairman and chief creative officer of The Walt Disney Studios Alan Horn will be the keynote speaker in conversation with Variety editor-in-chief, [...]

  • Smoke haze covers the Sydney Harbour

    Australia's Seven West to Merge With Affiliate Prime Media

    Australia’s Seven West Media has agreed a deal to acquire regional broadcast group Prime Media. The move is a further step in the consolidation of Australia’s traditional media industry. The two companies announced on Friday that Seven will make the acquisition entirely through the issue of new shares to the owners of Prime. Both companies [...]

  • Ron Meyer

    Ron Meyer Files $10 Million Suit Over Forged Rothko

    NBCUniversal Vice Chairman Ron Meyer has filed a $10 million suit against two art dealers, claiming they sold him a forged Mark Rothko painting in 2001. Meyer accuses Susan Seidel and Jaime Frankfort of duping him into buying the work. According to the suit, he was told that it would be included in an official [...]

  • Former movie producer Harvey Weinstein (L)

    Harvey Weinstein Seeks to Call Expert on 'Recovered' Memories at Rape Trial

    Harvey Weinstein’s attorneys are seeking to call an expert on “recovered memories” at his trial on rape and sexual assault charges. The defense has filed a motion asking to call Deborah Davis, a psychologist and professor at the University of Nevada at Reno. Davis is a frequent defense witness. She co-authored an article in 2006 [...]

  • Tekashi 6ix9ine Docuseries Coming From Showtime

    Tekashi 6ix9ine Docuseries Coming From Showtime and Rolling Stone

    Showtime Documentary Films today announced a new limited docuseries profiling controversial rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine. Titled “SuperVillain” and inspired by the Rolling Stone feature written by Stephen Witt, the three-part series will trace how a New York City deli clerk named Daniel Hernandez became superstar rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine — who racked up 2.6 billion streams and [...]

  • Fader Label Logo

    Fader Label Signs Two New Acts, Boosts Staff

    The Fader Label, home to Clairo, Matt and Kim and others, announced two new signings today along with three new hires on its staff. Charlie Burg and Zachary Knowles have joined the label’s talent roster, while Carson Oberg has come aboard as general manager, Yasmine Panah as project manager and Josh Hymowitz as label coordinator. They [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content