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NightWatch 20120104


For the night of 4 January 2012

China: On 3 January the official news service, Xinhua, published an explanation in English of major changes in satellite television prime time programming that came into effect on 1 January. That article is reproduced below.

"A recently implemented rule has effectively curbed the "excessive entertainment" trend as two-thirds of the entertainment programs on China's 34 satellite channels have been cut, according to the country's top broadcasting watchdog."

"The total number of entertainment shows airing during primetime every week has been reduced to 38 from 126 at the end of 2011, marking a 69 percent plunge as the new rule came into effect on Jan. 1, said a statement issued Tuesday (3 January) by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT)."

"According to an SARFT directive last October, each of the country's satellite channels would be limited to broadcasting two entertainment programs each week and a maximum of 90 minutes of content defined as entertainment every day during primetime -- 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m."

"The directive also required channels to broadcast at least two hours of news programming. Between 6 p.m. and 11:30 p.m., they must each broadcast at least two 30-minute news programs."

"The restricted programs on the SARFT list include dating shows, talent contests, talk shows as well as emotional stories that were deemed 'excessive entertainment' and of 'low taste.' "

"However, popular dating shows like "If You Are the One," produced by Jiangsu Satellite TV, and soap operas, such as "Li Yuan Chun," presented by Henan Satellite TV, will still be aired during weekend primetime hours, according to the statement."

"It said that the satellite channels have started to broadcast programs that promote traditional virtues and socialist core values."

"The newly-added programs among the satellites' revised broadcasting schedules are documentaries as well as cultural and educational programs, it added."

"The SARFT believes that the move to cut entertainment programming is crucial in improving cultural services for the public by offering high quality programming."

Comment: The changes are far reaching and portend more restrictions on freedom of speech and social activity, as understood in the US. China does not have freedom of speech and has never guaranteed it because it is a communist country. The broadcasting restrictions are a reminder that openness in economics, speech and social life are not rights, but privileges granted by the communist state as they suit its interests. 

Background. The Central Committee meeting last October approved the ideological foundation for a tightening of cultural activities, based on a speech given by President Hu Jintao. After that meeting, officials announced a new policy to eliminate many Western entertainment shows in prime time. That policy went into effect on 1 January.

Last month in another manifestation of the new policy, officials in Beijing and other cities ordered internet providers to ensure that people posting on microblogs had registered their accounts using their real names. Officials also have pressured executives and editors running the microblog platforms to censor themselves.

The effect of the new directives is to restore cultural space as a domain of ideological struggle between China and the modern world. Hu Jintao said last October, "We must clearly see that international hostile forces are intensifying the strategic plot of Westernizing and dividing China, and ideological and cultural fields are the focal areas of their long-term infiltration…. We should deeply understand the seriousness and complexity of the ideological struggle, always sound the alarms and remain vigilant, and take forceful measures to be on guard and respond…"

"The overall strength of Chinese culture and its international influence is not commensurate with China's international status….The international culture of the West is strong while we are weak," Hu said.

Comment: Hu's remarks are defensive and atavistic. Activities that the West and modern East judge as freedom of artistic expression and money-making entertainment opportunities, the Chinese communist leadership still considers to be part of a deliberate plot and a potentially existential threat. That parallels the thinking of North Korean chief propagandist Kim Ki-nam about the South Korean entertainment industry. It is also how Soviet General Secretary and former KGB chief Yuri Andropov and chief ideologist Mikhail Suslov viewed the flow of information from the West in the early 1980's.

Hu's comments also expose one of the fundamental contradictions in China's controlled capitalist economy. Entrepreneurial creativity tends to flourish in an environment stimulated by the free exchange of ideas and experimentation. However, communist orthodoxy is built on structure, control and obedience to orthodoxy. After 30 years of relative economic openness, the communists apparently remain uncomfortable with and suspicious of the free flow of information that is essential for a market economy capable of thriving in a global economic system.  Hu's fears are not unreasonable because free market capitalism has never been consistent with communist orthodoxy. 

NightWatch suspects that an important ulterior purpose of the new regulations is to control and eventually soak up excess liquidity held by an increasingly prosperous population in the cities; keep it from leaving China for Japan and Western countries and make it available to authorities to increase the national reserves against a decline in the rate of economic growth. That suggests the cultural correctness campaign is partly a ruse to cover economic redirection.

Open source evidence that this hypothesis is accurate is likely to be imposition of follow-on restrictions on the way the public and companies are allowed to spend profits and on access to credit. Greater social discipline always changes public spending patterns, in Europe as well as China.

China: Navy. The Chinese aircraft carrier completed its third sea trial between 20 December and 1 January.

Egypt: For the record. Voting in the third round of elections continued for a second day.

End of NightWatch for 4 January.

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