Sunday, 15 December 2019

China unleashes fun police amid economic fears

Michael Smith
Michael SmithChina Correspondent
Shanghai | China is preparing to further tighten some of the world's strictest censorship laws, with draft proposals that include a three-minute delay on live-streamed concerts, television talk shows and other entertainment.
Audience members will also become part of the Communist Party's latest clampdown, with officials recommending security checks on people attending sporting events and the information on placards and banners they take to support their teams.
The country's huge entertainment industry, which critics say is already stifled by government controls, has two weeks to comment on the proposals. Analysts say it is a sign the country's leaders are becoming jittery about a slowing economy.
In harmony: This performance by a Chinese navy chorus is likely to pass the censors' muster. AP
While China's singers, actors, authors and TV show hosts already face strict limitations about what they can say in public, the new rules suggest there will be stricter controls especially targeting rap and electronic music.
The Ministry of Culture draft proposal points to "weak links" in content checks, ticket sales and surveillance during performances.
Performances containing content against China's "constitution, laws or regulations" would be banned. "Superstitious" messages would also be targeted.
Analysts also pointed to a government crackdown this month on the virtual private networks (VPNs) that allow people to access foreign websites restricted by China's "great firewall" as another sign of a nervous government.
"The strengthened management of the entertainment industry and the tighter controls on VPN usage indicates that the Chinese government is stepping up its efforts to maintain stability," said Zhan Jiang, a retired professor from the Department of International Journalism & Communication at Beijing Foreign Studies University.
"The politburo made it clear that efforts should be made to keep employment, the financial sector, foreign trade, foreign and domestic investments, and expectations stable. Therefore all government departments are moving proactively to fulfil this assignment from the politburo. The main target of the campaign is to maintain social stability."
Beijing, which secured a phase-one trade deal with the United States at the weekend, is increasingly nervous about the country's slowing economy and rising inflation. Economic and social stability has been the key to the Communist Party's tight grip on power. China's economic growth is expected to slow to a 30-year low of 6 per cent this year.
Professor Zhan said China's government was highly efficient in managing risk.
"The situation is China is very severe. And the economic risks might be much worse than the economic data released by the government shows. The risk of social unrest is on the rise and the ruling party is taking tougher measures to maintain stability."
China's censors are usually more vigilant for signs of dissent or "inappropriate" behaviour in the lead-up to sensitive events such as October's 70th anniversary of Communist Party rule.
The latest content controls are in response to concerns that outspoken rap singers or talk show hosts could make "inappropriate" or vulgar comments. They particularly target live events that involve audience participation. However, content controls are also a key weapon to control political dissent.
For many foreign companies and expatriates living in China, VPNs are the only way to access Google, Twitter, Gmail and many foreign news websites. While the use of these networks has been generally tolerated, many have been switched off in the last two weeks.
The number of offenders in China convicted for selling VPNs to the public online has also spiked in the past four years. Public legal records  show there was only one case in 2015 and one in 2016 related to the sale of VPNs. This increased to three in 2017, 10 in 2018 and 16 cases so far in 2019
Records show individuals convicted this year have been sentenced to up to four years in prison.

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