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China 17 August 2006

Official press reports new restrictions on online video

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the imminent restrictions on online video reported on 15 August by the official news media, which said websites would soon need permission from the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) in order to post video clips and short films.

“These new measures are likely to drastically limit the ability to express oneself online through video,” the press freedom organisation said. “As well as spoofs of classic films or artistic creations, it will soon be impossible to use one’s website to disseminate independently-made video reports that stray from the official line.”

The new restrictions will complement the 2004 Measures for the Adminstration of the Dissemination of Audiovisual Programmes by Internet or Other Communication Networks. Referred to by media professionals as SARFT “Directive 39,” its main goal was to regulate the circulation of radio and TV programmes online. The new measures will therefore complete the process of integrating the Internet into the system for regulating the traditional media.

Websites that want to post video clips will have to be registered with the authorities, who will have to approve video content before it can go online. The SARFT has already decided that the major Chinese web portals such as Sina, Sohu, Netease, QQ and Tom will be allowed to disseminate video, but these companies already comply with the rules of self-censorship. To apply the new rules, the SARFT will set up a nationwide monitoring system with centres in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Video clips have blossomed on the Internet in recent months, especially after a 20-minute film by Hu Ge entitled “Murder Over a Steamed Bun” was posted online in February. A parody of movie director Chen Kaige’s film “The Promise,” it satirized the monotonous speech of state TV presenters. Another short spoofed the propaganda film “Sparkling Red Star,” turning its patriotic hero into a TV singing contest participant. Some commentators have said the satire was going too far and that its distortion of China’s revolutionary history was “immoral and unacceptable.”

Online video has been growing exponentially in China. For example, Toodou.com, a Chinese video hosting service, had more than 150,000 registered users in January. In December, its servers received 8,000 videos that were viewed 3 million times. in April, they received 35,000 videos that were viewed 35 million times.


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