The new reality

Clampdown denied, although regulator hints at future action on TV format

Dong Lei w

Too much reality: actress Angelababy stars in hit TV show Running Man

The Chinese Communist Party appears to have a problem with reality. Reality TV, that is.

Rumours circulated widely this month that the all-powerful media regulator, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), was planning a host of new rules restricting satellite broadcasters to one reality show a year, as well as demanding that reality programmes should be “close to the masses” (whatever that means).

The idea that SAPPRFT will keep a closer eye on reality programming is very much in line with the broader moral crusade in public life being championed by President Xi Jinping and his anti-corruption faction. But it worried TV exececutives. Shows like Dad, Where Are We Going? and Running Man, both originally South Korean formats, are hugely popular, racking up huge viewing figures and even prompting movie spin-offs.

However, to some relief SAPPRFT then denied that it is planning to clamp down on reality shows. But having made that statement, it also made plain it approves of the some of the sentiments that the online rumours conveyed about a potential ban.“The regulation being spread online is not true, but it is not a bad thing. It means that everybody is paying attention to this issue, thinking about it and doing research about the problems of reality shows,” said Gao Changli, publicity chief of SAPPRFT.

“The discussion in recent days has provided us with a lot of social feedback. We still need to have reality shows, but there need to be guidelines on how to make them more meaningful and valuable,” Gao observed.

Tightening up the rules on reality television formats would also bring the segment into line with other types of programme. It would also be symptomatic of the regulator’s desire to keep a tight rein on content, especially as the broadcasting market continues to swell.

Data released this week in a government white paper on human rights – which collates previously-released statistics from a host of state agencies – has been used to show how “cultural rights” are improving in China. The assessment is largely quantitative, suggesting that there were 321 million households with cable TV and 187 million cable digital TV users last year. China also produced 429 TV series totalling 15,983 episodes, as well as TV animations totalling 138,496 minutes.

Impressive numbers but TV producers still face challenges, including a media watchdog that seems reluctant to sit on the sidelines. For instance, earlier this year, SAPPRFT ordered the makers of The Empress of China, a period drama featuring Fan Bingbing, to be re-edited after cleavage-revealing costumes were deemed “unhealthy” (see WiC265).

And in April, SAPPRFT insisted it would continue to approve all foreign TV shows before they can be posted on video sites. Producers must present the whole season for vetting before it can be screened.

As for the reality TV circui, it has produced many heroes of popular culture over the years.

Market leader Hunan Satellite Television really got the ball rolling with the Mengniu Yogurt Super Girl Contest in 2004 before the series fell foul of the authorities, which claimed it was “poisoning the young” and was forced off the air.

In 2010 Beijing model Ma Nuo hit the headlines when she said she would “rather cry in the back of a BMW than laugh while riding on a boy’s bicycle” on the Jiangsu Satellite reality dating show, If You Are the One. The show was strongly criticised.

But one of the most famous personalities to emerge from the reality format in recent months is model Dong Lei, whose 1.14-metre legs wowed both the judges and the audience on the reality show Supermodel, and earned her the nickname ‘tui tui’ (yes, ‘legs legs’).

Perhaps SAPPRFT has a point after all…

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