China’s censors turn to online videos

Earlier this week, China’s broadcasting and Internet regulators issued a new rule to have Internet video providers pre-screen all programs before they can be watched online.

According to the joint statement by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) and the State Internet Information Office, the new rule is issued in response to the rapid growth of online video programs which contain vulgar content, including porn, violence and swearing.

China has very strict internet censorship – with the “Great Fire Wall”, the government manages to block out websites like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, and now if you use Google to search for sensitive Chinese words such as “protest” or “Tibet”, your Google will crash temporarily.

China also has very strict censorship for video contents. All media or internet companies need to have a certificate to be able to have video and audio material. Earlier last month, Hollywood blockbuster, Men in Black 3, didn’t survive the strict censors – scenes where aliens are disguised as Chinese restaurant employees were censored … because … well, Chinese can’t be villains, bad image for the nation.

Internet video providers follow internet censorship rules, but for the past few years, as there were no strict rules for online video regulations, big video providers thrived with user generated content – American, Korean and Chinese drama, as well as independently made entertainment shows and tv dramas that wouldn’t be able to pass the censorship rules for TV.

And this is where the new rule came in. Especially with the booming of Chinese microblog service made it possible for more what people call micro movies, dramas and entertainment shows, the regulators are worried that things they don’t want people to see are slipping through their fingers.

Many are angered by the move. “If you want to regulate something, write down specific rules, so that the websites have a standard. What is vulgar? …there has to be a standard, rather than the feelings of the individual censor. Or else we are going to have to make programs about how great the communist party is to keep safe.” Internet commentator Yu Bin says in his blog.

What is vulgar? The lately victim of the censorship really amused the public. China’s Central TV, in a report on opening a Renaissance exhibition in Beijing, decided to censor Michelangelo’s “David-Apollo” statue and blur out parts of the sculpture. As netizens complained: “This is porno after covering the marble statue with digital mosaic.”

China’s biggest online video provider Youku says the new rule won’t affect their operations much, as under Chinese law, the government outsources the censoring job to individual companies anyways – but it’s not immediately clear how the policy will affect user generated videos in the future.

“It’s okay. The censorship has been around for years, but there just are more and more ‘vulgar’ contents around. Market and the freewill of people will work the magic,” one micro-blog user commented.

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