Chinese TV Content: Big Brother Slithers Into the Shadow

05 September 2003

Communist China’s TV censor – the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television – has ceded its oversight of eight privately-owned TV production companies.

Local observers believe the move is triggered by economic as well as political concerns and reflects the desire of President Hu Jintao to force commercial reform upon the nation’s adipose state media mammoth. Also to level the playing field between a currently emasculated private production sector and China’s feather-bedded state TV companies – all one hundred and fifty-five of them!

SARFT’s endorsement of the eight private firms is expected to spark competition for the production of TV series; also to result in significant cost-savings for the production companies themselves who currently have to pay a substantial fee to a mandatory state partner.

The latter, say local insiders, contributes little if anything to the production process while automatically owning the copyright on all ‘co-productions’. Under the new rules, state partners are no longer required and the copyright will belong to the production company.

Says Liu Yanming, president of Hai Run film and TV production outfit: “It is important for us to get this legal independent status. Before this approval we were vulnerable to copyright disputes between us and [the state partner]. Even if we produced the whole TV series it was sometimes hard to figure out who owned the copyright if we wanted to sell the film to Hong Kong or foreign companies.”

Nor are the reforms confined to TV production. Led by politburo propaganda chief Li Changchun, regulators are ending state funding and compulsory subscription schemes that buttress hundreds of communist party and government newspapers and periodicals.

Also on the reform agenda is the formation of semi-private ventures between state owned newspapers and publishers – even to the extent of involving foreign investors in non-content activities such as advertising and distribution.

Data sourced from: Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff