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Politics

China tightens grip on TV and films ahead of National Day

Beijing bans 'too entertaining' programs amid regional tensions

The 2015 TV series "The Last Prince" depicts China's struggle against Imperial Japan: Chinese authorities are urging broadcasters to air patriotic programs of the 70th anniversary of modern China's founding in October.   © Reuters

SHANGHAI -- China has tightened its grip on the media ahead of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic on Oct. 1, against a backdrop of regional tensions. 

The government's radio and television watchdog has put a lid on TV programs deemed "too entertaining," starting Aug 1, to give priority to a "100-day broadcast" of patriotic programming, according to a statement released July 29. Historical dramas and romantic movies featuring popular stars have been banned from more than 100 channels.

In their place, the regulator suggested 86 titles from state broadcasters that highlight the history of the Communist Party of China and the country's scientific and technological prowess. The list includes ideological dramas such as "Liberation War" and "Our youthful songs."

The directive does not explicitly require online video broadcasters to comply, but analysts at Nomura say they will. "We think Chinese online video platforms may voluntarily comply with the notice and postpone the airing of self-produced dramas until after the sensitive period," said analysts at the Japanese investment bank.

Chinese media observers said such directives are not new. Shows featuring actors in period costumes and star-studded loves stories are often pulled from the airwaves during "reddish" months, when important party events take place.

"There are more serious issues plaguing the film industry, from creative matters to production and distribution," said one movie producer who asked not to be identified. "Nobody is certain what stories can or cannot be aired." 

The media clampdown has reached beyond the mainland, as another regulator announced on Wednesday that China will not take part in the 56th Golden Horse Film Festival in Taiwan in November. The announcement follows a recent ban on individual travel to the island, which Beijing regards as a renegade province that must be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary. 

A worsening cross-strait relationship led to the decision to skip the film festival, according to the state-owned China Daily news outlet. It also cited "Taiwan independence" remarks made by an award winner at last year's event.

The festival, which has been held since 1962 to promote Chinese-language cinema, has drawn entries from an array of filmmakers, including from the mainland and Hong Kong. China's Zhang Yimou, who won acclaim for "The Great Wall," featuring Matt Damon, won Best Director last year for his film "Shadow."

Chinese authorities also sent a thinly veiled warning to Hong Kong residents over ongoing street protests in the territory. State TV aired a news clip on Tuesday showing 12,000 police officers in next-door Shenzhen conducting drills.

The "Shenzhen Shining Sword" exercise showed police in riot gear battling rod-wielding men in the city's financial district, and then surrounding and subduing them. Quoting an officer, the clip said the exercise was carried out based on an "actual scene" to ensure public security.

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