We have compiled a chronicle of China’s broadcasting restrictions, rules and guidelines over the past fourteen years. While this timeline is not complete, China’s broadcasting regulators, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (formerly known as SARFT), seem to be rather uptight. Overall, they can be easily offended by the easygoing styles of presenters from Taiwan and Hong Kong; they are cautious about how the Communist Party is depicted in TV dramas; they are wary of online video drawing away television viewers; they fear even voting in talent shows. To be fair, they have also did something positive, such as halting annoying teleshopping adverts.
Every day, television stations must broadcast at least ten minutes of cartoon (thirty for provincial stations), 60% of which should be Chinese ones.
A Taiwanese drama called Meteor Garden was banned nationwide.
Crime dramas involving murder and programmes developed from online games must not be broadcast during the prime time. “Red classics”, dramas about the Communist Party’s history, should always be based on truth and not fictional.
Candidates of cross-provincial talent shows must be over 18 years old, a blow to singing competitions like Super Girl (Chaoji Nvsheng).
Foreign programmes dubbed in dialects are not allowed to be broadcast on television, a response to the Sichuanese version of Tom and Jerry.
Presenters of Super Girl must not be “biased” and should “promote the main tune”. The “main tune” usually refers to the Communist Party’s values, the political correctness in China.
TV stations of all levels must not broadcast foreign cartoons during the prime time.
During the prime time, satellite TV stations can only broadcast shows that are in line with the “main tune”.
Presenters from Hong Kong and Taiwan are not allowed to present for a Mainland-made show for three episodes in a row.
One local television station was singled out and criticised by a high-level official for mocking two Chinese films, Zhang Yimou’s Curse of the Golden Flower and Feng Xiaogang’s The Banquet. This official demanded homemade movies not be criticised in any form of art. He maintained that Chinese movies were still developing and “must not be slandered”. He also demanded that local broadcaster “review deeply” over this issue.
Hunan TV’s Super Boy was given the go-ahead but was also required to “add public good content”. Songs sung in the show should be “healthy and positive” and promote the main tune (again). Scenes of candidates in tears, family members hugging each other and crying, fans screaming were discouraged.
Two channels, run by Ningxiang and Gansu TV stations, were banned from commercials for displaying too many boob job adverts.
A talent show on Chongqing TV was severely criticised by the regulators for deploying gimmicks to promote its viewing and for wrongly selecting judges.
A reality show of cosmetic surgery on Guangdong TV was halted. The regulators decided that the programme “contained disturbing images and was of low taste”. They further put a ban on cosmetic surgery and gender transformation shows of all kinds, as well as those that violated privacy.
Two radio programmes in Chengdu were halted for containing “five types of sex content”. These five types are sex life, sex experience, sex insights, sex organs and sex medicine promotion.
A drama called Red Question Mark was banned for “poor production, poor taste and excessive coverage of crime”.
Also in this year, five types of teleshopping, which are medicine, medical equipment, breast enlargement, weight-losing, height-increasing, were banned on both television and radio.
The time period, from 5pm to 8pm, when TV stations of all levels must not broadcast foreign cartoons were extended by one hour to 9pm.
All TV drama productions must be documented and disclosed to the public and are discouraged from themes emphasising horror, crime and eccentricity.
Except the central television station, all broadcasters were not allowed to use the word “Olympics” in titles of entertainment shows.
The regulators called for all broadcasters to prevent “the degradation of relationship shows”.
Lie detectors must not be used in relationship shows.
Films, TV dramas and cartoons were not allowed to be put online without licenses. As a result, even if the copyright is bought through distributors, the show still could not be put online.
Entertainment shows must not feature “the dirty little secrets” of celebrities, so that celebrities “with bad records” would not mislead viewers.
As 2009 was the 60th anniversary of the founding of People’s Republic of China, the regulators required all local satellite TV stations to broadcast only TV dramas that paid tribute to the anniversary during the prime time from May to October.
Online video and music streaming services without licenses were closed down. A number of BT download sites were later shut down in December.
The whole process of a talent show was limited to two and a half months at most. Text-message voting was banned. A show could not be broadcast live for more than ten episodes. And live episodes could last no more than 90 minutes, and could start only after 5pm.
The regulators demanded TV stations not hold extravagant New Year’s Eve show. And Taiwanese presenters, including Jacky Wu, Aya Liu and Kevin Tsai, were required to be “specially taken good care of”.
English abbreviations like NBA, GDP, WTO and CPI were not allowed to appear in reporting, interviewing or subtitles. The regulators claimed the purpose was to let more people to understand what they watched and what they heard.
Identities of candidates of dating shows must not be falsified to cheat viewers. Controversial figures or people with bad images must not be the presenter. It was forbidden to abuse candidates in the name of dating or marriage. Such shows must not involve vulgar or sex content, or reflect “unhealthy or incorrect” attitudes towards marriage, such as money worship. And relationship shows must not be superstitious and ugly, or radical behaviour and speech caused by domestic conflicts. And negative attitudes should not be excessively emphasised.
Business programmes about stocks and securities must not have commercial cooperation with securities institutions.
The regulators announced to crack down on pirated content online, such as American, Japanese and Korean shows.
Adverts must not be inserted into an episode. In other words, an episode should be entirely free of adverts.
Tobacco or smoking must not appear in TV dramas. The plot must not involve teenagers smoking or buying tobacco. Smoking as “a statement of personality” or “an artistic need” should be strictly controlled and be replaced with other forms if possible.
Adverts must not appear after the opening of a show or before the ending of it. Nor could they cover the credits. A blacklist was set up by the regulators, and soon 44 teleshopping adverts were halted by the regulators.
One official, Li Jingsheng, claimed time travel dramas were not respectful to history and culture, and should not be encouraged. He added that the administration would stop permitting any new production of the “Four Great Classical Novels”, a set of novels that are the most popular and well-known in the country. Later, dramas about fights in imperial courts, crime and time travel were forbidden during the prime time of satellite TV stations.
This year was the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party. TV stations across the country were stopped playing dramas about espionage, time travel, crime from mid-May to July, the month when the party was considered to be founded. They could only play “red dramas”, shows about the Communist Party’s history.
Online streaming sites must not distribute their content through TV boxes.
The regulators required satellite TV stations to increase news reporting time and produce programmes that reflect “Chinese traditional merits” and “the core values of socialism” to “strengthen minds and morals”. At the same time, TV stations were also required to reduce the number of entertainment shows, talk shows, dating shows, reality shows, etc.
News shows must not be named under any commercial outfit or product. News presenters must not appear in commercials.
Group-on and membership film tickets must not be below 70% of prices in the box office.
The regulators once again stressed that figures with bad records and controversial online figures must not appear as guests in shows. “Recently there is a horrible trend to invite controversial figures onto shows to display ugliness.”
Online self-made shows must be censored before publishing online.
The regulators set out six rules about composing TV dramas: There should be distinctive boundaries between the enemy and the party in history dramas. Do not exaggerate conflicts in big families. History dramas should not be fictional. Business dramas should lead viewers to the correct values. The plot must not copy from a foreign drama. The plot is not encouraged to be based on online literature. No dramas based on online games.
The regulators set out more detailed guidelines on TV stations and TV dramas.
The number of episodes of one drama broadcast on a channel in one day must not be more than six, or eight over the weekend. Before that, unlike their British or American counterparts, Chinese TV stations would play one drama for the entire day. (Also unlike in Britain or America, one Chinese drama usually last more than 20 or even 80 episodes in one season. There is not really a concept of "seasons" for them, though.) Many elderly people were thusly kept in front of the screen all day.
Dramas based on reality issues were encouraged, while fictional ones were discouraged.
Each broadcaster can import no more than one foreign show format a year. The total number of national singing competitions each year would be restricted to four.
Presenters and narrators should speak Putonghua, the received pronunciation of Mandarin, avoid using dialects, accents and foreign words.
From July to October, TV stations must play dramas about “the Chinese dream”, a phrase coined by Xi Jinping’s government.
One drama must not be broadcast on more than two channels at the same time during the prime time. During the prime time, stations must not broadcast more than two episodes of one drama.
Stories where the Red Army or the Liberalisation Army obtain intelligence with women or money or by assassinating are not allowed.
From September to October, satellite TV stations were required to play patriotic and anti-fascist TV dramas.
The regulators cracked down on foreign dramas played online without licenses.
TV stations were required to overhaul health shows.