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(Updates with comment from analyst in third paragraph.)
Nov. 29 (Bloomberg) -- China will ban television stations from airing commercials during broadcasts of dramas starting Jan. 1, the latest in a series of limits on TV content issued by the government in the past three months.
Television stations may face reprimand or the loss of commercial broadcast rights if they air advertising during the 45-minute episodes, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television said in a statement on its website yesterday. The rule is meant to “lift the standards of public cultural services” and “protect the people’s basic cultural rights,” the regulator said.
“This is using the economic card as a disincentive for the production of more TV dramas, which conservative party leaders think are vulgar and in some cases anti-socialist,” Willy Wo- Lap Lam, an adjunct professor of Chinese history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said by telephone today.
Chinese leaders including Premier Wen Jiabao have expressed concern that the three decades of growth that transformed China into the world’s second-largest economy have also left the nation with a lack of morals, resulting in incidents including the sale of tainted milk powder that killed at least six babies. The overthrow of governments in North Africa this year has also increased the desire to use TV for propaganda, Lam said.
“They want to ensure they can use prime-time TV as a propaganda tool to promote patriotism, positive values about the party and focus on the brighter side of socialism,” Lam said.
After a meeting in October, the Communist Party’s Central Committee released a communique vowing to “promote more fine literary and artistic works” in fields such as television, movies and photography. At the same time, the media regulator unveiled limits on the number of “overly entertaining and vulgar” reality and talent shows that could be aired on TV.
The communique also said the government would strengthen management of online social media sites, on which users have criticized the government and exposed official graft. Earlier this month, executives from China’s biggest web companies, including Baidu Inc. Chief Executive Robin Li, Alibaba Group Holdings Ltd. Chairman Jack Ma and Sina Corp. Chief Executive Charles Chao pledged to curb “illegal and harmful” online content at meetings with the government, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
In September, the media regulator ordered Hunan Television to suspend broadcasts of its “Super Girl” singing competition, similar to “American Idol,” for infractions including the exceeding of limits on the length of the shows, Xinhua reported. “Super Girl,” the most-watched of China’s TV talent competitions, drew more than 400 million viewers for its finale in 2005 at the peak of its popularity, according to Xinhua.
Hunan Television earned about 100 million yuan ($15.7 million) this year from selling advertising slots during the “Super Girl” show, according to a report by Charm Communications, an ad agency in China. The show, which first aired in 2004, allowed the audience to select the winner of its signing competition by voting via websites and mobile phones.
All Chinese broadcasters are owned by either the central government or by local provincial and city governments. Government control over these local TV stations is less direct, which makes the use of “economic weapons” more effective than ordering that they show fewer dramas, Lam said.
“This would seem to affect how profitable TV programming can be,” James Roy, an analyst for China Market Research Group, said by telephone today. “Advertisers are definitely going to take notice because any time you’re not getting ads in the middle of programs it decreases the value sharply, and makes TV a less attractive advertising medium.”
Roy said he didn’t have an estimate for the value of advertising revenue that will be lost due to the ban and that many consumers are going online for entertainment. Youku.com Inc. and Tudou Holdings Ltd. are China’s biggest online video websites.
The media regulator said in its statement yesterday that it had designated January as a “special month” for enforcing the new ban throughout the country.
In addition to TV, the city of Beijing in April began banning outdoor advertising that promote “hedonism, lavishness and the worship of foreign things” amid concerns about an erosion of morality in China.
Premier Wen blamed food safety incidents in the nation that included the sale of tainted milk powder and the use of illegal food additives on a “severe” lack of integrity and morals.
Last month, the People’s Daily, a newspaper controlled by the Communist Party, published a commentary calling on the nation must halt a decline in morals after surveillance camera footage distributed over the internet showed more than a dozen people in southern China who ignored a 2-year-old girl after she was struck by two vans. The girl later died of her injuries at a local hospital.
--Edmond Lococo, Daryl Loo. Editors: Garry Smith, Nicholas Wadhams
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