Chinese websites pull out foreign TV shows

Sina Weibo's booth at the Global Mobile Internet Conference in Beijing in April 2017. China ordered a halt to video streaming on the major website recently.
Sina Weibo's booth at the Global Mobile Internet Conference in Beijing in April 2017. China ordered a halt to video streaming on the major website recently.PHOTO: REUTERS

Video-sharing sites blame copyright issues; netizens take to social media to vent anger

BEIJING • Chinese fans got a rude shock this month when popular foreign television shows were suddenly yanked off two top video-sharing websites in China where controls are tightening over media content.

Bilibili - which boasts more than 150 million active users - removed most of its American, British and Thai TV shows, including the 1980s British political satire Yes Minister, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported on its website.

All foreign categories that previously existed on the website, such as "American drama", have also been removed, the online report added.

AcFun, another popular video-sharing website, was also missing most of its foreign films and TV shows.

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A customer service officer at Bilibili claimed the videos were removed because of copyright issues, but Chinese viewers blamed it on Beijing's Internet crackdown, SCMP reported.

China had signalled last year that it would tighten restrictions on foreign and "foreign-inspired" television programmes in a bid to boost production of domestic shows that promote Chinese patriotism and traditions.

Despite government controls, foreign television shows are widely available as illegal downloads or on pirated DVDs. Many are also available legally online through distribution deals with domestic websites, Reuters reported.

China had signalled last year that it would tighten restrictions on foreign and "foreign-inspired" television programmes, in a bid to boost production of domestic shows that promote Chinese patriotism and traditions.

The country on June 30 issued new regulations for online video content, directing streaming platforms to eliminate a range of programmes.

Among the films, dramas and cartoons targeted by the China Netcasting Services Association's (CNSA) rules are those "demonstrating 'abnormal' sexual relations or acts, such as... homosexuality", according to Agence France-Presse.

The new rules came just one week after China ordered a halt to video streaming on three major websites.

According to CNSA, China's media oversight body, the websites - the massively popular Sina Weibo microblogging platform, news portal iFeng.com and AcFun - did not possess the permits required for providing their audio-visual streams.

Earlier last month, the authorities also closed dozens of celebrity gossip blogs which were described as "catering to the public's vulgar taste".

Bilibili and AcFun are known for their "bullet-screen" function which features scrolling marquees of viewers' real-time reactions to their videos.

"I don't know whether it's a government move to manage copyright problems or if they're trying to control how people think," a Bilibili user by the name of Hana Li told SCMP. "Maybe it's both."

China's heavy Web censorship - which blocks sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter - is also notoriously known as the "Great Firewall".

One Weibo user, among many others who reacted angrily on social media, wrote that the government "wants to isolate the country from the outside world in the Internet age".

"The Qing dynasty is back."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2017, with the headline 'Chinese websites pull out foreign TV shows'. Print Edition | Subscribe