'Saturday Night Live' pulled in China amid crackdown on content

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China’s version of U.S. broadcaster NBCUniversal’s satire show “Saturday Night Live” (SNL) has temporarily been pulled from a domestic video site, amid a crackdown on content ranging from online blogs to livestreamed video.

The news comes after China’s content regulator urged media platforms last week to produce and broadcast “positive energy” programs to teenagers, and protect them from “low taste and harmful programs” during the summer vacation.

The Chinese-produced show, which premiered late in June, hosted by comedy duo Yue Yunpeng and Chen He, has been pulled from video site Youku, a spokeswoman for the platform told Reuters on Wednesday, but added it could be back soon.

“(The show) might be online again, be patient,” she added. Youku is one of China’s top online content sites, backed by e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.

It was not immediately clear who made the decision to take the show offline or if regulators ordered it. The Youku spokeswoman declined to comment on specific details.

In a post on its official microblog, SNL China said the show was “working hard to become better”, urging viewers “to have a big smile for when we see each other next time”.

Imported talk shows, which thrive on being freewheeling and satirical, find it hard to translate their success to China, and the Chinese version of SNL is the second such show to be pulled this year, following one hosted by domestic comedian Liang Huan.

Checks by Reuters showed it was not alone, however. A few others on Youku appeared to have been taken down or postponed, including one hosted by Taiwanese talk show hosts Kevin Tsar and Elephant Dee. Youku did not comment further.

China’s censors have published long blacklists of banned content that can range from lampoons of national heroes to overly graphic violence. Regulators also repeatedly vow to remove anything that “deviates from socialist core values”.

An American professor who had been an outspoken critic of censorship in China said on Tuesday he was leaving the country after losing his job at Peking University’s HSBC School of Business in Shenzhen.

The Chinese version of SNL, a show known for its risqué political sketches in the United States, had seemed to refrain from touching on political flashpoints in a market where censors strictly control all content.

The Chinese version avoided mocking political leaders, instead taking a jab at China’s oft-ridiculed national football team in a recent episode. The U.S. version often lampoons U.S. President Donald Trump and his senior aides.

Reporting by Pei Li in BEIJING and Adam Jourdan in SHANGHAI; Editing by Clarence Fernandez