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China restricts TV shows with 'excessive entertainment'

Regulator wants more content that promotes 'traditional virtues'.

BEIJING // Talent contests, dating series and other television programmes deemed vulgar by the communist authorities will no longer fill the schedules of China's satellite channels after officials ordered the return of "healthy shows".

While the wildly popular Supergirl programme once held the nation in thrall with audiences of 400 million, starting next year there will be strict limits on the number of light entertainment shows 34 satellite channels can broadcast.

It is, experts say, the latest salvo in a tussle between authorities keen to promote traditional values and commercial television stations desperate to chase ratings because of advertising revenue.

China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (Sarft) said this week it wanted to prevent "excessive entertainment and vulgar content", with game shows, reality programmes and singing contests top of the hit list.

Sarft has taken aim at reality television before, banning a show called The First Time I Was Touched in 2007 for being "coarse" and "lacking in artistic standards".

There were indications last month the authorities were again losing patience with broadcasters when it was announced Supergirl, an American Idol-style talent show, would not be allowed to continue next year, supposedly because one episode of the 2011 series exceeded limits on the length of programmes.

Under the rules announced this week, from 2012 China's satellite channels will be able to broadcast only two entertainment programmes a week, with a 90-minute limit imposed on any one day, according to a statement released by the official Xinhua news agency.

In place of entertainment shows, officials say stations must broadcast at least two hours of news each day. Also, channels have been told to produce programmes that "promote traditional virtues and socialist core values".

"Channels have been forbidden from taking decisions based purely on audience viewing figures, and directed to place greater emphasis on social values," Xinhua said.

Dating programmes have previously been castigated for promoting rampant materialism after young women taking part admitted they were looking for rich boyfriends.

Supergirl was once branded "poison for the youth" by a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body, and was banned from allowing viewers to vote by text message following its first series, with observers suggesting officials were nervous about the parallels with democratic elections.

"I think it's a tension between the state control and the power of the market," said Lin Fen, an assistant professor in the City University of Hong Kong's Department of Media and Communication.

"The battle has been going on for decades. The state has loosened control over entertainment and news, but the boundary is always shifting."

It is not just China's national media regulator that has encouraged more worthy programmes to be shown.

In Chongqing in south-west China, where the city authorities have promoted Communist Party nostalgia by sending out text messages of Mao Zedong quotes, the local satellite television station this year shelved dramas and comedies in favour of revolutionary shows and programmes about the singing of red songs.

Entertainment shows fall foul of the authorities in part because they encourage young people to become obsessed with how they dress and look, believes Shen Fei, also an assistant professor at the City University of Hong Kong's Department of Media and Communication.

The concern is not that they provide an alternative world view that offers a political challenge, but instead that they run counter to a conservative cultural view that young people should "focus their energy on study and work", he said.

dbardsley@thenational.ae

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