China Mulls Purge of Foreign Content From Media, School Textbooks

2018-09-21
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A video about U.S.-China trade tensions plays on a computer screen in Beijing, Aug. 23, 2018.
A video about U.S.-China trade tensions plays on a computer screen in Beijing, Aug. 23, 2018.
AP

The ruling Chinese Communist Party's media regulator is considering banning the broadcast of overseas-produced news during prime time on domestic channels, while the country's ministry of education has ordered a purge of foreign content from textbooks in primary and secondary education.

The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) issued a "consultation" paper on Thursday that proposed forbidding radio and television broadcasters from airing any foreign news content, as well as from transmitting audio-visual programs made overseas during prime time in the evening.

The paper called for "opinions" on the proposed rule changes.

Shandong-based journalist Qi Chonghuai said the move is part of an ongoing bid to limit not just what people can see, but the tools they have to think about it.

"There is [already] some news that you can't get in China, and a lot of people only find about about it when it is reported overseas," Qi told RFA. "Now, they want to block up that channel, for fear that foreign ideas will get into China; they are afraid of people finding out about democracy."

"The Communist Party has always controlled the news, to pull the wool over the eyes of ordinary people," he said.

An official who answered the phone at SARFT referred inquiries to the press office. However, calls to that number rang unanswered during office hours on Friday.

Further limits seen


Overall, Chinese stations are currently limited to airing no more than 30 percent of foreign content on domestic networks, but the new rules would set further limits on prime-time viewing hours, as well as on the use of foreign anchors and actors on Chinese screens.

If the rules are adopted, broadcasters will be barred from using foreign hosts, writers, and directors, while only one lead actor at a time can be non-Chinese.

The notice also suggests a ban on the dissemination of any foreign content that "damages the dignity, honor, or interests of the Chinese nation, [or] that endangers social stability or hurts its feelings."

Chinese media organizations may also be banned from participating in the production of such content, it said.

Sichuan-based dissident author Tan Zuoren said the document isn't likely a genuine consultation exercise.

"It isn't asking people for their opinions," Tan said. "If they really wanted my opinion, it would be to oppose these new rules."

"Government departments are constantly using various rules to change 'temporary' measures, and leaders even order changes to the law," he said. "This just destroys the rule of law."

Inspections ordered


Meanwhile, the education ministry ordered a full review of primary and high-school textbooks in a bid to expunge all "foreign and unauthorized content" from the country's curriculum.

"The illegal use of textbooks written by schools, foreign, and unauthorized textbooks should be resolutely rectified, and the results reported by Oct. 15," the Global Times newspaper quoted a directive from the education ministry as saying.

Inspections had revealed that some publishing houses had been editing textbooks without permission from the government.

Some schools had also substituted foreign textbooks for approved texts, or had been using "other unauthorized classroom materials," the paper said.

Schools have also been ordered to re-evaluate previously authorized self-authored textbooks, reporting the results by Oct. 10.

The ministry said it would make a final review of any adjustments, and that its feedback must be incorporated by March, and materials authorized again before being handed out to students, the article said.

Cultural isolation

The moves come after a government shakeup in March that saw President Xi Jinping begin an indefinite term in office, and expanded power for the ruling party's propaganda department.

Online free speech activist Wu Bin, known by his internet nickname Xiucai Jianghu, said the move is another sign that China is becoming more and more shut off from the outside world.

"We just keep going backwards, towards a situation of cultural isolation," Wu told RFA. "This is getting worse and worse for the kids currently in school."

Wu said there is an inherent conflict in the government's approach.

"They are saying that foreign teaching materials [have to be purged], but the ideologies of Marx and Lenin ... were a foreign import, and yet they keep on using them as before," he said.

Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan and Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service.

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