Illustration: Peter C. Espina
From next year, Chinese viewers will no longer be harassed on their televisions by classless matchmaking, talent and reality shows. The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) announced in a directive on Tuesday that it will limit entertainment and add more news programs and other shows that "build morality and promote the core values of socialism."
I couldn't help but read the SARFT directive three times, it was that entertaining. Chinese TV lacks content rating classifications, a system of determining suitable programming for viewers common throughout the world. Chinese mainland TV stations are all either state or public owned, with no commercial stations. So, I guess you can't really apply the rules of a market economy on them. But why then are TV commercials so rampant? Apparently these aren't exactly "public" either.
Some programs aren't appropriate for children. This is why most countries have a content rating system. Apart from cable or satellite channels, TV stations are not allowed to show certain programs at prime time. But instead of making the distinction between commercial TV stations and public ones, or TV-G (general) and TV-MA (mature) programs, the mainland's system is an odd hybrid that shuns both public funding and the programming interests of viewers.
There's no doubt of the influence TV, video games and online content has on people. But can we really blame a TV show involving desperate single men and women finding dates on the moral decay of our society? Are we to understand that the reason people turn a blind eye to car accident victims is because they have been watching too much China's Got Talent?
I'm dying to see what entertainment can boost my morality. Red songs? It's a long shot. After all, Chinese viewers have tuned into news programs including Xinwen Lianbo for decades, yet look where we are now on the morality scale.
It's certainly not the first time media regulators have announced such directives. In April this year, the media watchdog cracked down on vulgarity and banned time travel shows. Anyone in show business in China will tell you the long list of things they cannot do.
Have the regulators ever considered the possibility that the reason there are too many similar shows is because creativity has been restricted? Afraid of breaking the rules, producers just follow the bland yet safe and successful route of copying others.
What if Michelangelo was told he couldn't make nude sculptures, or if Michael Jackson was banned from performing because of his crotch-grabbing antics? China just isn't a country where outlandish thinking or creativity is encouraged. As for plans to emulate a genius of the late Steve Jobs' caliber in China? Good luck with that.