April 2, 2009

China Cracks Down On Internet Video Content

Just two weeks after video of Chinese police allegedly beating Tibetan monks was posted on the Internet, China issued fresh rules on Thursday to crack down on what it called "harmful" political or religious content.

According to a notice on the Chinese government's Web site, the new rules ban online videos that damage national stability, "instigate hatred between ethnic groups" or "maliciously disparage" China's police or military.

The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader now in exile in India, released footage last month that allegedly showed Tibetans, some in monks' robes, being beaten and shackled by Chinese police during anti-Chinese protests across the Tibet in March of last year.

After the clips appeared on the Internet, access to the video-sharing site YouTube became unavailable in China.  

An AFP report cited a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman who refused to confirm whether the government had blocked access to the site.

China has the world's largest online population, reaching roughly 300 million users by the end of 2008 according to Chinese data.  

However,  authorities have a history of censoring websites they consider offensive or politically unacceptable, establishing what many call a "Great Firewall of China".

The latest restrictions, issued Thursday by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, aim to "enhance the building and management of an Internet culture, disseminate the advanced culture of socialism, and reject vulgarity," the Chinese government notice said.

The rules also targeted sexual and religious content, and ban videos that "advocate evil cults and superstitions."   The phrase is often used by the state in reference to the prohibited Falungong spiritual sect, which the government sees as a potential threat to its authority.

Also banned is the posting and downloading of any movies and television shows the government has not given permission to be shown in China.  The new rule could help reduce the widespread practice in China of illegally downloading such entertainment, state media reports said.

"From today on, you will never be allowed to download and watch a foreign movie, television show, or cartoon that has not yet been in cinemas or broadcast on television," said one article published in the Beijing Evening News.

China grants approval for just 20 foreign films per year to be screened, often insisting that objectionable content first be deleted.

For instance, in 2006, the government ordered that scenes depicting laundry drying on balconies in Shanghai be deleted before "Mission Impossible III", which was partly filmed in the city, could be screened, according to state media reports at the time.

In recent years, China has also attempted to clamp down on an explosion of online video content, which is often the only way average citizens can view videos of anti-government protests, which would never be shown by the country's strictly controlled state media.

Last January, China ruled that only state-owned or state-controlled entities could run websites that post audio-visual content.   However, under harsh criticism it later amended the ruling to include private firms in good standing.


On The Net:

Beijing Evening News