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//Leshuo Dong, a 2011-2012 visiting scholar, analyzes changes in the administrative bodies regulating cultural production in China and discusses the potential implication on the Chinese media sphere.
In a recent New York Times article about Censorship in China, Chinese author Yu Hua wrote, “A film might be banned for 20 years, while the novel on which it is based sells briskly throughout that same period.” This may no longer happen, however, since the Chinese State Council is merging the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) and the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT).
GAPP is the administrative body responsible for regulating the distribution of news in both print and digital publications in China. The organization is also responsible for examining and approving publication licenses for periodicals and books. SARFT is an executive branch under the State Council that directly controls state- owned enterprises engaged in the television, radio, and film industry. Previously, both administrations were responsible for censoring the culture products that fell under their respective jurisdiction. While the name of the new state administration is still under discussion, it will be responsible for planning and supervising the development of the press, print and digital publications, and the radio, film, and television industries.
Media companies hope that the new authority will play a role in boosting the industry by spurring innovation. However, there are also concerns that centralizing power will lead to tighter control over the culture products that are circulating across the country. The merger also brings high expectations that the Chinese media will be better positioned to compete in the information age. China has been eager to establish a more modern communication system for over a decade. A systematic cultural reform has been carried out since 2003, which started with the marketization of hundreds of publishing houses and media groups. While the pace of reform has been accelerating, the media in China is facing rising challenges due to rapid changes in digital information technologies. In response, powerful media groups, able to integrate new media with traditional media to meet the challenges, have emerged. For example, Xinhua, a news agency that developed into a comprehensive news service now owns newspapers, magazines, TV stations, websites and other media outlets.
This consolidation of power can lead to cumbersome decision-making, since individuals may now have to go through different administrations to get a license or get their products into market. This could be a significant problem considering that in order to compete in the media sphere, information needs to move faster than ever before and with less barriers. Conversely, the merging of GAPP and SARFT is believed to be conducive in coordinating the resources of each sector and increasing institutional efficiency, which would ideally benefitting the country’s media and culture industries.
The restructured organization is still trying to solve problems like multi-channel management and dual licensing, particularly as it relates to the Internet regulation. This is especially difficult since the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology are still supervising China’s Internet. The latter mainly controls China’s Internet infrastructure facilities while the former looks into content that they think is not suitable for the public to access. In addition, the Communist Party’s Publicity Department and the State Council Information Office maintain their standing on filtering content on Internet, whether it’s text or video. Therefore, it is unclear what role the new consolidated body will play with these other ministries.
Since the new regulator will soon control almost all of the culture products that will reach one fifth of the world’s population, many actors inside and outside the China are interested in how the restructuring will influence the media content and cultural products produced in China. The new administration will likely face intense scrutiny as the world watches to see how it will operate.
//Leshuo Dong, Visiting Scholar 2011- 2012