China tightens grip on media with regulator reshuffle

BEIJING (Reuters) - China is consolidating film, news and publishing regulation under the powerful Communist Party publicity department, strengthening Beijing’s grip over content as the country looks to bolster its “soft power” domestically and overseas.

FILE PHOTO: Red flags flutter outside the Great Hall of the People before the second plenary session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing, China March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

The media shake-up, reported by Reuters on Wednesday and confirmed by the official Xinhua news agency, signals tighter media control amid a broad crackdown on news, online content and film that goes against Party values under President Xi Jinping.

The shift also comes as China looks to merge ministries and create new regulators overseeing matters from banking to food safety in the biggest government shake-up in years.

The reorganization would mean the publicity department would play a “special and important role in propaganda ideology and cultural entertainment”, said a notice seen by Reuters from the ruling Party’s Central Committee dated March 19.

Xinhua published the notice on Wednesday.

The body will take on powers over film, news and publishing, previously held by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, which was dissolved earlier this month as part of the wider reshuffle.

“Audiences should expect to see more ‘positive energy’ movies from now on,” said Xu Juan, an analyst with Huatai Securities, referring to patriotic films like “Wolf Warrior 2” and “Operation Red Sea”, that have broken box office records.

The Communist Party is increasingly leveraging cultural products such as movies, rap music and even video games to promote “socialist values”, an important modernizing push to make sure it avoids falling out of touch with youth.

This has also seen a major tightening over online content from ramped up censorship of microblogs, culls on live-streaming platforms and regulators criticizing some of the country’s top internet firms over content.

Industry insiders said putting the media regulator directly under the publicity department would increase already heavy-handed censorship. Last year, a sweeping crackdown on internet content spooked filmmakers, bloggers and media professionals.

“Based on the current political situation, control will be heading for more tightening up,” Fan Popo, a gay activist and film director, told Reuters.

In addition, China has also approved the creation of new broadcaster called “Voice of China”, which will consolidate several existing state TV and radio stations including China Central Television, China Global Television Network, China National Radio and China Radio International.

The central government notice said that the newly created broadcaster, which will report directly to the publicity department, will “guide hot social issues, boost multimedia integration and development, strengthen international communication, and tell good China stories”.

Reporting by Pei Li and Christian Shepherd; Editing by Nick Macfie