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China Readies Law Restricting Foreign Television Content

The Chinese government is moving forward with plans to restrict foreign content on broadcast television and online video platforms.

The National Radio and Television Administration published drafts of new regulations Thursday. These are normally open to industry and public discussion for a period of 30 days.

The draft regulations will limit foreign content to 30% of daily airtime on all channels, and banish it completely from evening prime time, defined as 7-10 p.m.

The stated objective is to exclude content that presents as violence, terrorism, incitement to crime, and a threat to social stability and national sentiment. It is also intended to prevent content that “deviates from socialist core values.” The draft particularly targets foreign current affairs shows, but its scope also includes feature film and animation.

This is the first legislation introduced by the new regulatory body since oversight of the media and entertainment sector was shifted to the propaganda department of the Communist Party in March. But it fits with an established pattern of growing conservatism by Chinese media regulators, and also with expanded central government controls over the Internet.

In the past few months, new restrictions have been placed on live streaming and online gaming. China’s version of satirical show “Saturday Night Live” was temporarily taken off the air in the summer, and political satire is increasingly less welcome.

Zhuang Rongwen, who in August was appointed as head of the Cyberspace Administration of China, recently set out a similarly robust approach. Writing last month in political magazine Qiushi, he called for a “people’s war” and plans to rehabilitate China’s “cyber ecology.” He proposed the promotion of “positive energy” and the suppression of negative elements including wrong ideological trends, unflattering portrayals of China’s leaders and unapproved versions of China’s history.

The agency this month took measures to block the website and online application of Australia’s public broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. It joins Bloomberg, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal in a group of overseas news organizations unavailable to ordinary Chinese web users.

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