Jan. 4 (Bloomberg) -- China’s government said broadcasters must cut the number of entertainment shows during prime time by more than two-thirds, culling a format that exposed a widening wealth gap that contradicts the Communist Party’s core dogma.
The total number of entertainment shows, including dating programs, game shows, talk shows and “emotional stories” airing from 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. was cut to 38 as of Jan. 1, from 126 at the end of last year, the official Xinhua News Agency reported late yesterday, citing the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, or SARFT.
China announced the plan in October as part of a broader effort by the Communist Party’s Central Committee to assert more control of the media and Internet as it grapples with rising social unrest over work conditions and government corruption. Reality TV can undermine the party’s line that China is becoming more “harmonious,” said Willy Wo-Lap Lam, an adjunct professor of history at Chinese University of Hong Kong.
“In the eye of the commissar, such dramas or shows tend to spotlight socioeconomic ills, and exacerbate ordinary folks’ feelings of inadequacy and unhappiness,” Lam said. “The CCP wants to nurture a society of decreasing contradictions and increasing happiness.”
Promoting a “harmonious society” where riots, strikes, and corruption decline and happiness and stability increase is a key theme of President Hu Jintao’s decade-long tenure as China’s top leader. Hu is due to step down from his post of Communist Party General Secretary late this year with Vice President Xi Jinping in line to succeed him as head of the party that has ruled China since 1949.
The prime-time entertainment shows, viewed by millions of Chinese both inside and outside of the country, often highlight unhappiness, materialism and disharmony. A dating show “If You Are The One” cited a woman saying she would rather cry in a BMW after a male contestant offered her a ride on a bicycle. The show made some changes after being told by censors to tone down its programing, the New York Times reported Dec. 31.
Another program, “Snail Dwelling,” portrayed a fictional urban couple’s efforts to buy an apartment. One episode featured a Communist Party official offering an envelope of cash to a young woman to help with her sister’s down payment, and she later becomes his mistress. The show was one of the most popular in China in 2009.
The move to curb such programs is aimed at reducing what SARFT called “excessive entertainment” and shows of “low taste,” Xinhua reported. Channels must also broadcast at least two 30-minute news programs between 6 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., Xinhua said. “If You Are the One,” produced by Jiangsu Satellite TV, will continue, Xinhua reported, citing the SARFT statement.
The Communist Party’s push to reassert control in entertainment and the Internet also seeks to curb the influence of foreign influences on Chinese culture.
“International forces are trying to Westernize and divide us by using ideology and culture,” Hu said in an October speech that was reprinted as a signed essay in Qiushi, a party magazine, and published on the government’s website on Jan. 1. “We need to realize this and be alert to this danger.”
In a globalized world in which people are exposed to many ideologies and values, the country with the most cultural influence will gain a competitive advantage, Hu wrote.
The moves come as the Communist Party is seeking to alleviate social unrest amid concerns protests over widening inequality could undermine its grip on power. So-called mass incidents, including strikes, riots and other disturbances, doubled to at least 180,000 in 2010 from 2006, according to Sun Liping, a sociology professor at Beijing’s Tsinghua University.
China’s Gini coefficient, an income-distribution gauge used by economists, has climbed to near 0.5 from less than 0.3 a quarter century ago, according to Li Shi, a professor of economics at the School of Economics and Business at Beijing Normal University. The measure ranges from 0 to 1, and the 0.4 mark is used as a predictor by analysts for social unrest.
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