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China fast forwards censorship; requires prescreening of online videos

China has announced changes to its online video content regulation.  The changes require sites that host online videos to pre-screen user-posted content for material “that is deemed inappropriate.”  China’s State Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARFT) issued an official notice of the policy change on July 9.

According to Huffington Post, these changes were made in response to the rising popularity of online videos.  According to SARFT’s statement, the new rule is meant to protect the Chinese youth and promote videos of higher quality.

While SARFT cited public outcry as the rationale for the policy change, the China Media Project reports that there was a negative reaction online following the news:

A reporter for Guangzhou’s Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper steamed on [popular Chinese microblogging platform] Weibo : “You even want to concern yourself with the number of flies in the latrine! What is there that you don’t want to control? There’s not a single thing you can manage properly! And you still think the world will stop spinning if you don’t control it.”

The theme of control freaks who can control nothing adequately was a popular one. “You control everything, but manage nothing well!” said one user.

Akin to some of China’s other new censorship regulations, the burden of maintaining acceptable content online is on the websites, and not on the government censors.  Computerworld explains the government’s expectation with the shift:

Authorities are requiring online video sites to better review videos for content before they go online for viewing. They also demand that online video industry groups provide better supervision and training for personnel that review videos before they are uploaded.

The impact this will have on Chinese websites is unclear.  The Huffington Post says many Chinese video websites already hire pre-screeners “who examine all content uploaded to the site.”  However, ZDNet explains that “many site owners will find it difficult to follow the new instructions since they suddenly have to find the resources to pre-screen everything that is uploaded.”  Therefore, this new policy may impact smaller, less established video websites, favoring those who have the ability to hire people to sift through all submitted content.  Further, popular international video sites, such as YouTube, are already blocked by the regime; although, as the BBC explains, “some of [China’s] citizens use VPN (virtual private network) services to overcome the ban.”

Targeting online video is not new terrain for SARFT.  Chinese media research firm DANWEI details the various policy changes SARFT has made about online video content–going back as far as 2006.  This includes shutting down online television programs, as well as entire video websites they deemed unfit.  As has been exhibited several times over the last few months, China has begun a nuanced and calculated crackdown on online media; this is merely another example of the national campaign.  While this will probably have little impact on international video platforms, this could potentially cause difficulties for many small-scale Chinese video-based websites, given their lack of resources and the new obligation to comply with this regulation.

About the Author: Cale Guthrie Weissman

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