China’s censorship body keeps ruining fun on the internet

Image: Reuters/Carlos Barria
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Chinese citizens, living under tight censorship control, don’t have too much freedom to crack jokes on the internet. Now, what tiny space they have left for having fun is increasingly being chipped away.

In an “extra urgent” document (link in Chinese) issued yesterday (March 23), the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), China’s main media-censorship body, banned videos that re-edit content from other works such as classic TV shows and films. According to the body, such videos distort content and take the original videos out of context in order to attract viewers, creating “an extremely bad influence on society.” It also banned trailers and behind-the-scenes videos from unapproved content on all online platforms.

The ban comes as China continues to tighten ideological control online. In early 2017, SAPPRFT established a committee to change the country’s “chaotic” film review system after officials blamed moviegoers for harsh comments that they said contributed to sluggish box-office figures. In 2016, it also banned broadcasting and making TV shows that depict homosexuality, drinking, and vengeance. The Communist Party instead wants people to be consuming more content that promotes its ideology, including party-linked rap music.

SAPPRFT didn’t name any specific platforms or content producers in its latest directive, but the ban would cover popular parody videos that are usually about three-minutes long, and are widely disseminated on platforms such as Weibo and Youku Tudou, China’s YouTube equivalent. They often repurpose content without approval from the owners.

Guamo, which often repurposes content from movies for its videos, is one such account on Weibo, with around 8.7 million followers. The account was accused of copyright infringement (link in Chinese) last year in Taiwan. Guamo’s most recent work, a four-minute video that liberally uses scenes from the movie Pacific Rim, plays on the Chinese word for the giant robots in the movie, Da Ji Ji (大積機), which also sounds like a slang term for “big penis” (大鸡鸡).

Guamo didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment with regards to the SAPPRFT directive.

Already, leading video producer Yue Hou Ji Xia has pulled down some videos in a bid to “clean up and improve” its content on WeChat, news outlet SupChina reported earlier. The platform said in a statement (link in Chinese) that it had not been forced to do so, and that the decision was part of a self-motivated decision to make more “interesting and healthy” content for the public.