No laughing matter: China regulator bans TV parodies amid content crackdown

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China’s media regulator is cracking down on video spoofs, the official Xinhua new agency reported, amid an intensified crackdown on any content that is deemed to be in violation of socialist core values under President Xi Jinping.

Red flags are seen on the top of the Great Hall of the People during the ongoing 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, in Beijing, China October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee

The decision comes after Xi cemented his power at a recent meeting of parliament by having presidential term limits scrapped, and the ruling Communist Party tightened its grip on the media by handing control over film, news and publishing to its powerful publicity department.

Xinhua said video sites must ban videos that “distort, mock or defame classical literary and art works”, citing a directive from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television on Thursday.

Reuters separately reviewed a copy of the directive, which was unusually labeled “extra urgent”.

Industry insiders say the sweeping crackdown on media content, which has been gaining force since last year, is having a chilling effect on content makers and distributors.

“It means a lot of content makers will have to transition and make their content more serious. For ‘extra urgent’ notice like this, you have to act immediately,” said Wu Jian, a Beijing-based analyst.

“Those who don’t comply in time will immediately be closed down,” Wu said.

A TV reporter’s theatrical eyeroll during a long-winded question at a Beijing news conference stole the show during China’s annual parliament session last week, exploding on Chinese social media before censors intervened.

A video of the eyeroll became the source material for many parodies and satirical performances.

Despite strict censorship, China has a fairly lively online community of bloggers, who frequently respond to breaking events with humorous - and sometimes risqué - sketches and short videos, although they often face their posts being taken down.

JustXiait, a team of Chinese parody bloggers famous for satirical dubbed-over videos from movies, said in an official microblog post that the group would voluntarily delete all videos “to conduct self-inspection, cleanup and improvement”.

The decision is “to make the program more in line with relevant laws and regulations, and to provide audience more interesting and wholesome programs”, it said.

Reporting by Pei Li and Adam Jourdan; Editing by Paul Tait