In Chinese television, one day you’re in, and the next day you’re out.
China’s top state media regulator has ruled that television and radio programs cannot broadcast in any format once given an official warning — whereas in the past, shows could return to the air or be shown online after “rectifying” certain elements.
The notice, issued by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television (SAPPRFT) in December, also laid out new rules stipulating that reality entertainment inspired by international shows must apply for preapproval two months before broadcasting.
Fans fear that the new guidelines might cause some hit reality shows to disappear forever. Last September, “Go Fighting!” — a variety program modeled off a South Korean series — was suspended during its third season, with viewers speculating that a storyline involving traitors was the issue. The show resumed with a final episode two months later.
In August, another South Korean-inspired reality show — “Dad, Where Are We Going?” — was canceled in its fifth season but later made available to stream online. The show featured celebrity fathers and children, a subject targeted by a 2016 SAPPRFT notice that advised against casting minors in reality shows to avoid the negative impact of celebrity upon impressionable youth.
“If a rectified program must be terminated, what’s the point of rectification?” one user on microblogging platform Weibo asked.
Some commentators, however, applauded the notice. “On the one hand, it sets administrative constraints, but on the other, it drives self-improvement,” Sun Zhenhu, a professor of journalism at the Communication University of China, told Sixth Tone. By clarifying what wasn’t allowed, added Sun, SAPPRFT is pushing producers to be more creative.
For example, Sun pointed to state broadcaster CCTV’s “Chinese Poetry Conference,” a game show in which participants compete in reciting classical Chinese poetry: A runaway hit with 487 million viewers in its second season in 2017, the show sparked greater appreciation of traditional culture, said Sun — fulfilling the aims of a 2015 SAPPRFT regulation on reality shows that called for closer supervision of imported formats and encouraged original programs with Chinese characteristics.
Sun observed that the focus of regulation is shifting toward online content. “The government has realized that to some degree, new media is influencing China’s soft power and participation in [international dialogue],” Sun said. “The strength and breadth of regulation will grow more and more.”
–This article originally appeared on Sixth Tone.