Chinese drama series and video programs produced for online broadcasting are now facing tighter regulations, after the Netcasting Services Association published a detailed set of guidelines ordering strict examination of video streaming websites and banning tasteless and unpatriotic content.
A thorough examination of video programs before their broadcast is a must from now on, the guideline stated, requiring every show to be entirely reviewed, from the beginning to the end, by at least three inspectors. Written reports must be produced before the show gets the green light to go online.
The examiners are also asked to strictly abide by the list of rules in the six-page handbook, which defines what content is acceptable and what is not.
The new regulation fills a void that has allowed loose interpretations by producers and online streaming platforms of previous recommendations attempting to clean the industry from damaging content.
The new rules have raised concern that the success of the fast-growing industry, which has produced innumerable low-budget but instant hits in the past years, would be jeopardized.
However, the body which was established in 2011, said that such regulations are a necessity to limit the detrimental effects of messages depicting vulgarity, terrorism, superstition and unnatural behaviors, among others.
Moral clarity trumps commercial success
The vetting criteria differentiate between "positive and mainstream" values, such as patriotism, justice, honesty, social harmony, and "negative and harmful" values, such as pragmatism, greed, deception and untruthfulness and irregular sexual relationships.
The plot stories of dramas, movies, documentaries and cartoons, as well as the content of reality and variety entertainment shows, should advocate honorable merits instead of despicable faults, the guideline noted.
Promoting immorally wrong behavior or bad conduct, which many believe are the essence of human nature, are thought to be the right ingredients for commercial success by film producers.
The regulation noted that some programs, driven by business interest, tend to blur the lines between right and wrong and mock socially-acceptable values, saying that such messages must be stopped.
"Social impact must always be kept in mind. Program producers should, on one hand, endeavor to gain success on the market, and on the other stick to positive values," the new regulation noted.
Drawing red lines, some unexpected
Aside from banning display of illegal activities, violence, drug abuse, eroticism, extremism, and lavish lifestyles among others, a new and detailed list of no-nos has been established, with some unexpected points brought forward.
For example, "bad guys" should not be sympathized with or portrayed as main characters in dramas, juveniles participating in reality shows should not be instructed to show cynicism, the official interpretation of historical characters or events should not be challenged nor modified, the reputation of police and justice departments should not be smeared in any fictional creation, the hosts of variety shows should neither poke fun at one another nor flirt in front of the camera.
Unorthodox or abnormal sexual activities must also be removed from videos. These include extramarital sex, one-night stands, open relationships, incest, and sexual abuse and violence. Homosexuality was also included in the list, despite its removal from the country's Ministry of Health's list of mental illnesses in 2001 and the tolerance towards it in China.
Netizens on the Chinese blogosphere noted that two thriving types of Internet dramas may be seriously affected by the new regulation. The murder mysteries or case-solving dramas may be scrutinized because they show the different skills of policemen and detectives in putting the pieces of a perplexing puzzle together, which could expose "trade secrets" and benefit criminals in real life. The second kind is the fantasy dramas, which usually features transmigration of souls, wizardry and witchcraft, which fall into the category of superstitions.
The production of Internet video programs used to be a self-regulated territory managed by video streaming websites. The auditors were hired by the websites to conduct self-examination of the content uploaded on their platforms. The guideline said such structure will not be modified.
Wei Wuhui, a media researcher at the School of Media & Design in Shanghai Jiaotong University, said that vetting online dramas did not start with this set of measures.
"The guideline only summarizes and publicizes former experience of examination so that inspectors can have clear standards to follow in the future."
The Netcasting Service Association, a semi-official industry body under the authority of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), is composed of 672 members, including state-owned TV stations such as CCTV, CRI and major video streaming websites including Youku, Iqiyi, Tencent. The members are not legally bound by its recommendation, but those who disobey rules could be criticized or expelled.
Severe violations may be reported to superior authorities, the guideline noted.