China is to abolish the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, forming a new agency that will be under the control of the State Council. The move follows the recent and indefinite extension of Xi Jinping’s tenure as President of China. The media authority was formed in 2013 as a means to help streamline China’s clearance and/or censorship of content. It was born out of the merger of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television and the General Administration of Press and Publication.
SAPPRFT will be replaced by a new state radio and television administration, said a document released Tuesday regarding reform of the cabinet. The proposed body will be more firmly under the thumb of the Communist Party. It will be responsible for drafting policies and measures for radio and television management and their implementation, coordinating development of broadcasting undertakings and industries, promoting institutional reform in the sectors, importing radio and television programs and facilitating the sectors to go global, the Xinhua state news agency reported.
(It is notable that the term “film” was left out of the local press. However, SAPPRFT has traditionally overseen the sector and is the official word on box office — including recent moves to crack down on fraudulent reporting.)
The move to strike SAPPRFT comes amid the 13th National People’s Congress in Beijing where plans are underway “to make the government better-structured, more efficient and service-oriented,” China Daily notes.
This follows the national legislature’s overwhelming Sunday vote to lift the presidential term limit (as the NYT remarks, it was 2,958 to 2). The endorsement puts China on course to follow President Xi’s hard-line authoritarian rule for an indefinite period of time.
How the removal of term limits for the president is expected to further affect the media business is not fully clear. USC professor Stanley Rosen recently told me that “president” is the weakest of Xi’s three positions — he is also General Secretary of the Party and Chairman of the Central Military Affairs Commission which have no term limits. The abolishment of the presidential term limit “reverses the attempts of Deng Xiaoping in 1982 and after to separate the Party from the Government and avoid the installation of a future Mao-type leader who can rule completely unchecked,” said Rosen.
Could Xi’s term extension affect the ongoing USTR negotiations with China on behalf of the major studios? A source says it “isn’t really an issue.” Xi “would do what he wants to do regarding USTR with or without term limits.” He is “not showing a willingness to be more open nowadays,” this person continued.
When SAPPRFT was created in 2013, it came as the public was increasingly discontent with a bloated central administration, whose bureaucracy and inefficiency were at odds with a market-oriented economy. Its founding was part of a reform of the cultural sector that began in 2003 and turned hundreds of former government organizations including publishers and theaters, into companies that operate according to market rules — however, it maintained a strong grip on the industry and messaging.
It’s also worth noting that China recently banned Winnie the Pooh from social media, demonstrating its control over messaging — Xi is sometimes likened to AA Milne’s famous bear and memes of the two side-by-side have gone viral over the years. A recent story in communist mouthpiece The Global Times said, “Interestingly, in the era of globalization and the internet, although China has stunning economic might, it has not yet become a leading power in terms of ideology and information” and while Western democracy “is ulcerating” China “cannot stop and take a break… The country must seize the day, seize the hour. Our country must be united, energetic and be able to continue with opening-up. Our country must not be disturbed by the outside world or lose our confidence as the West grows increasingly vigilant toward China.”