Chinese netizens have hit out at new censorship of online films and TV, after the government announced it would force film websites to submit each film for official approval before it can be made available to a Web-based audience.
China's State Administration for Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) issued a directive on Monday titled, "Regarding further improvements in the management of online drama, microfilm and other online audio and video programming."
The directive requires video sites to arrange censorship before airing programs, official media reported, with uncensored programs prohibited from being shown.
Online commentators have hit out at the move, saying it stifles freedom of expression, and will prevent netizens from viewing their favorite items.
Punishments will be handed out to video sites that are found not to carry out the censoring task, according to a joint statement issued with China's State Internet Information Office.
"Players in the online video industry are encouraged to form an association of censors, the members of which should have training programs and tests to become qualified examiners," the statement said, adding that the directive was aimed at limiting "vulgar and violent content."
"Netizens urged the government to protect child viewers from those disturbing and misleading pictures," an official spokesman told reporters. "So the intention is to build a healthy environment for online programming."
'Stark raving mad'
Hangzhou-based online author Zan Aizong said the government had no right to dictate quality of entertainment to Chinese netizens.
"There is no legal basis for calling something vulgar - it is a blanket term that anything can be made to fit," Zan said on Tuesday.
"Back when we had Internet cafes, they said they were vulgar, then they said text messages were vulgar," he said. "I think the SARFT has gone stark raving mad."
"It is grasping at straws just to hold onto its power."
Zan said much of China's microfilm and online drama entertainment was made by netizens themselves, bypassing the traditional approval routes followed by film studios and scripts.
Shenzhen-based author Zhu Jianguo said the authorities had become particularly nervous after large numbers of teenagers and young people had taken part in recent riots and protests in the southwestern province of Sichuan against a planned copper refinery.
"Internet controls are taking place against this sort of background," Zhu said. "The day of the 18th Party Congress is getting closer and closer, and the stability measures they had in place already aren't enough; they have to tighten them still further."
Relaxed approach needed
Zhu said the new regulations would probably choke off the supply of independent, online entertainment for the short term, but that in the long term, a more relaxed approach would be needed.
"This is very high-risk, because it will prompt further anger and backlash among ordinary people," he said. "The stability measures have already made people angry and prompted a backlash."
"This is unlikely to be suppressed indefinitely; it will eventually exacerbate conflicts still further."
China's online microfilm craze was kickstarted by the huge popular success of a 43-minute film titled "Old Boys," a collaboration between the video-sharing site Youku and the China Film Group which garnered millions of views after its online launch in October, 2010.
Video sites like Ku.com and Sina have hurried to join the market since.
The SARFT drew widespread ridicule last year after it issued a directive banning shows with a time-travel theme on state television, and later ordered state-run broadcasters to remove spy dramas from their schedules and begin airing approved revolutionary dramas to mark the Party's 90th anniversary on July 1, 2011.
Reported by Tang Qiwei for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.