May 15, 2004 in Nation/World

China cracks down on television to weed out western influences

Tim Johnson Knight Ridder

‘BEIJING — In a bid to clean up its airwaves, China has ordered television personalities to get rid of their “weird” clothing and “colorful” hairdos and stop tossing out English words on the air.

The state broadcasting authority also renewed a ban on foreign crime shows and warned China’s broadcasters to shun programs that promote Western thinking or politics.

Authorities want to make television “less sexy and violent” and more compatible with China’s social values, the state Xinhua news agency said Friday.

The clampdown is the latest sign of a tussle between Communist Party officials intent on tightening their grip on the news media and the Internet, and journalists resisting censorship.

In recent months, officials have jailed senior executives at one of the nation’s most respected newspapers, sent several Internet dissident essayists to labor camps and cracked down on online chat rooms.

According to a circular issued by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, on-air personalities shouldn’t wear “over-fashionable or exposing clothes,” Xinhua said. Hairstyles may not be “too colorful” or “queer,” it added.

Television hosts shouldn’t imitate Hong Kong or Taiwanese accents – considered chic by some young Chinese – nor should they drop English words into their presentations, the circular said.

Television station managers shouldn’t buy imported programs “whose themes are unfit for China’s social and national conditions,” it said, adding that “plots, pictures or words that will harm ethics or society should be deleted.”

While Chinese broadcasters show far less lively fare than their counterparts in Hong Kong and Taiwan, station managers in major cities such as Shanghai and Chongqing have grown bolder in recent years, importing programs from abroad in an attempt to win new viewers and make their stations profitable.

Some Internet users heaped scorn on the new measures.

“What are we going to watch? The weather? … Meetings of the leaders?” one wrote in a posting on the Web site.

Another user, who identified him or herself as Ben Wujun, said the government should stop restricting television programming. “As an adult, I should decide myself what television program to watch or not watch.”

China has some 2,000 television channels and 9,000 newspapers, as well as a swelling population of Internet users, now estimated at some 80 million people.

Its rulers are seeking to modernize the media while quashing debate about the Communist Party’s monopoly on power.

At least 23 journalists and about 50 dissident Internet writers are jailed in China, some of them serving long terms, the Paris-based advocacy group Reporters Without Borders said earlier this month.

On May 2, Internet journalist Liu Shui, 37, received a two-year term in a labor camp, the group said.

On Thursday, a court handed down a five-year jail term to Yang Jianli, a 40-year-old Harvard University research fellow who runs a dissident online review. Yang, a U.S. resident who was arrested two years ago, was accused of spying for Taiwan and illegally entering Chinese territory.

In March, authorities jailed the former editor in chief of Southern Metropolis Daily, a respected newspaper in Guangzhou that broke the news of the SARS epidemic in China last year.

The arrest of the former editor, Cheng Yizhong, came after judges handed down lengthy jail terms to the tabloid’s former general manager and the former director of the newspaper’s parent group.

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