SARFT Extends Internet Video Censorship

China’s State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT) has released a mandate [zh] aimed at extending the branch’s reach of control over Internet-based original content. A Xinhua news brief reports:

The State Internet Information Office and the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) jointly issued a circular asking online video content providers to closely examine their videos before making them available for viewing, according to a Monday statement from SARFT.

According to the circular, video content providers will be held responsible for the videos posted on their websites.

The circular also instructed relevant industry associations to step up self-disciplinary efforts regarding video content.

The statement said that the circular was issued upon requests from the public, as videos with vulgar or obscene content are believed by the public to have had a negative impact on both the mental health of young people and the development of online video content providers.

Another Xinhua report explains that this policy is necessary in light of the growing popularity of “micro films” (微电影) and online TV series not subject to the same regime of censorship as traditional media:

Good Web series and micro films can help develop a positive Web culture, and the country encourages more productions that are in good taste, according to an announcement jointly released by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television and the State Internet Information Office on Monday.

“But some online programs contain seriously vulgar and violent content. A few shows even use lewd and gory scenes as a publicity stunt, stirring up controversy on the Internet,” said a spokesperson for the administration.

[...]Liu Cheng, a film theorist who was involved in the recent Micro Film Grand Gala that aims to boost the development of the micro film industry, said Web-produced shows and micro films, as a new entertainment form for netizens, require guidance and supervision in order not to exert a negative effect on the masses.

While official accounts have stressed that these measures are to mitigate dissonance as the party strives for a harmonious society, China Media Project’s David Bandurski points out that they may be targeting the distributive potential of user-generated documentation:

Yesterday we shared a Sina Weibo post deleted by the authorities in which a Beijing-based producer of “micro films”, orwei dianying (微电影), put out a call for footage from the scene of last month’s Tianjin fire. That post offered a revealing glimpse into an emerging grey space in China — features and documentaries filmed on mobile phones and distributed to potentially mass audiences through social media.

Could such a space enable Chinese to delve deeper into sensitive or contested issues? With a “micro documentary”, for example, about the June 30 blaze at a shopping mall in Tianjin?

Not so fast, says China’s State Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARFT). The body, which controls and regulates all radio and television programming as well as like content online, announced new restrictions this week on “micro films”, “online dramas” and other emerging forms of video content.

Bandurski’s post also details the new directives, and translates Netizen reactions that seem contrary to party claims that these measures are in response to “requests from the public”. Danwei’s Jeremy Goldkorn has translated another Netizen reaction, and posted a historical timeline of SARFT’s battle with online video:

Internet users themselves do not appear to be impressed. A search on Sina Weibo for SARFT (广电局) results mostly in complaints about SARFT’s intentions, such as the following:

According to the demands of Internet users, SARFT should be disbanded
(应广大网民要求,撤销广电局吧 From YOU-are-not-TOO)

In other SARFT related news, The Economist tells of a blockbuster film’s release being delayed over concerns that its plot may be seen to dimly reflect the epic fall of Bo Xilai.

Also see  the China Copyright and Media blog’s post of an unpublished Xinhua interview with a SARFT spokesperson, and Charlie Custer’s portrait of SARFT’s killjoy tendencies on Tech In Asia.