BEIJING - First porn is purged and now China is cracking down on mainstream content hitting the Web before government agencies have a chance to screen and possibly censor the material.
The State Administration of Radio Film and Television announced online Monday that movies, TV shows, animation, and documentaries distributed via the Internet or mobile phones must first be approved by government censors.
All content related to religion, sex, violence, political issues, or that which is
perceived as damaging "national image or social harmony" will be subject to editing or complete banning by SARFT.
Rebecca MacKinnon, a media studies professor at the University of Hong Kong, told Forbes the SARFT agency is "trying to apply the same standards and rules to the online world that they already applied to traditional media. They're trying to make the cyberspace and real life space more consistent in terms of what video is possible."
The tighter grip on the Web means that films and other entertainment shown in Chinese movie theaters or on television will take longer to hit the Internet, from several months to possibly more than a year. Also, the government only allows a limited amount of foreign films - about 20 --to be shown in China each year.
The new restrictions are sure to impact China's online video industry, which includes money-making sites such Tudou.com, .56.com and Youku.com. However Youku founder Victor Koo told the Hollywood Reporter the agency statement is a "clarification" and that censors already stall material to scrutinize if any portion is "unhealthy" or "vulgar."
Beijing-based China Media Monitor-Intelligence said the move "could spell a major shake-up for the online video industry" and suggested TV shows from drama to comedy to variety could be heavily censored or not allowed including American programs such as Gossip Girl and Prison Break.
Meanwhile China experts believe video sites, video-sharing sites and other entertainment websites will be further pressured to police content and take it down immediately if it's unauthorized. Some wonder if greater control is being sought, following the posting of a Tibetan protest video on YouTube showing the military beating monks and citizens, which led to a blocking of YouTube in China.
"We'll see how tough SARFT is in enforcing this. I imagine it'll probably be selectively enforced," MacKinnon told Forbes." What you have is regulation on the books so that you can crack down when you want, rather than expecting that people will be 100 percent compliant."
According to American attorney Steven Dickinson, a Chinese law expert, Beijing is trying to 'retake' the Internet.
"The government will pitch this as an attempt to clean up on intellectual property abuses," he told Forbes. "Frankly, there is some truth to that. However, I don't think it is the primary reason."
"From today on, you will never be allowed to download and watch a foreign movie, television show, or cartoon that has not yet been in cinemas or broadcast on television," proclaimed the Beijing Evening News this week.
Last year, China began requiring site operators to obtain Internet video
broadcasting licenses, while in January, the government launched a new crackdown on Web porn and "lewd" and "undesirable" content, which led to the banning and shut-down of more than 1,000 sites.
According to the news service AFP, China has the world's largest online population, numbering nearly 300 million at the end of last year,