When China abolished the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television last week, state media said a proposed new body overseeing radio and TV management would fall directly under the State Council, i.e., more firmly under the thumb of the Communist Party. But a question mark was left over what was to become of film oversight. The situation is now gaining some clarity. A statement from China Film Group on Tuesday said film management will be assigned to the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party’s Central Committee.
Moving movie oversight to the CPC’s Propaganda (or publicity) division is a means to maximize film’s special role in propaganda, ideas, culture and entertainment and develop a prosperous movie industry, CFG said. But it also likely signals increased censorship and the promotion of homegrown patriotic films like last year’s Wolf Warrior 2 and the recent Operation Red Sea, the Middle Kingdom’s top two grossers ever at $854M and $554M, respectively.
The key responsibilities of the Propaganda Department on film oversight will be managing administrative affairs; guiding and supervising production, distribution, and screening; organizing the review of movie content; guiding the coordination of major national movie activities; and undertaking cooperative foreign productions, international cooperation and exchange of input and output films.
All of this comes in the wake of changes in the central government’s structure and notably China’s vote to abolish presidential term limits. The latter sets China on course to follow President Xi Jinping’s hard-line authoritarian rule for an indefinite period of time.
While the U.S. Trade Representative has been negotiating with China on behalf of the Hollywood studios, seeking better terms, it’s as-yet unclear how these sweeping changes could ultimately affect a deal. They certainly point to a tightening of government control over the film and TV industries in an already notoriously strict environment. But we’ve previously been told, Xi “would do what he wants to do regarding USTR with or without term limits.”
The statement from China Film further reads that the main duties of the State Administration of Radio and TV Affairs are to implement the party’s propaganda principles and policies, formulate policies and measures for radio and television management, and supervise the implementation of such measures. It will also supervise and review the content and quality of radio and TV programs, and be responsible for import, collection and management, among other duties.
SAPPRFT had been formed in 2013 as a means to help streamline China’s clearance and/or censorship of content. At the time, the public was increasingly discontented 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 into companies that operate according to market rules — however, it maintained a strong grip on the industry and messaging.