China has embarked on a difficult transition from high growth
fueled by reliance on investment and manufacturing to growth based
on consumption and the service sector. For this new economic model,
the key to sustaining growth is innovation. Innovation will
continue to be supported by large fiscal and tax subsidies in the
13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-2020) and beyond as well as by
various industrial policies to foster the growth of domestic
companies, which may continue to hamper market access for foreign
competitors. Many such policies are grouped under the rubric Made
in China 2025. Affected industries are as varied as alternative
fuel vehicles, information and communications technology, medical
devices and pharmaceuticals.
While the likelihood of success of such policies in making
Chinese manufacturing more successful is unclear, the promulgation
of policies that among other things restrict the ability to
"publish" on the Internet seems perversely likely to have
a dampening effect on innovation in the creative economy regarded
as essential to China's projection of soft power [
see also the March 10, 2016 WilmerHale alert "Tightening
Internet Regulation in China"].
Of particular concern to the television industry are the General Principles on
the Content and Production of Television Dramas (General
Principles) dated December 31, 2015 but not made public until March
3, 2016. The General Principles, formulated in accordance with the
Regulations on the Management of Content in Television Dramas
(2010) (Regulations) are intended to guide the television industry
to avoid risk and engage in healthy production, i.e., to conform
the production of dramas to politically acceptable genres with
politically correct content. The 11 specific categories of
prohibited content under Article 5 of the Regulations—e.g.,
violation of the Constitution or laws; harm to natural unity,
sovereignty or territorial integrity—are reiterated in
Article 4 of the General Principles. However, Article 5 of the
General Principles goes on to list 51 additional types of
prohibited content, such as not being in accordance with
China's national condition or social system, playing up social
problems or the dark side of society, and the catch-all anything
that violates the spirit of laws or regulations or does not help
national construction and development.
The General Principles are also significant because they were
not formulated by a government agency and therefore were exempt
from any requirement to provide an opportunity for public comment.
The General Principles were instead jointly issued by the recently
formed China Alliance of Radio, Film and Television (Alliance) and
the China Television Drama Production Industry Association. These
two industry self-disciplinary associations effectively function as
auxiliaries of the government industry supervisor, the State
Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television
(SAPPRFT), in enforcing government policy with respect to content
transmitted through the mass media and, at least indirectly, the
Internet. Indeed, the Alliance was formed on May 29, 2014 to carry
out Party policy which is superior to government policy.
Moreover, while Article 11 of the Anti-Monopoly Law authorizes
industry associations to strengthen self-discipline within the
industry, guide competition in accordance with law, and safeguard
market competition order, the power of the self-disciplinary
associations under Article 8 of the General Principles to punish
violations by cancelling member qualifications raises risks of
The intensification of censorship with respect to television
dramas also raises questions about the impact on the industry. Will
broader restrictions on content lead to a decline in originality or
innovation? If so, will it in turn impact viewership as well as the
ability to export programs to foreign audiences to enhance
China's soft power as well as for commercial reasons? Will some
artists involved in the production of television dramas leave the
industry to find more creative avenues for their talents?
Foreign companies interested in licensing or coproducing
television dramas to Chinese audiences will have to take even more
care in reviewing script production to avoid offending China's
politically driven cultural mandates.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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