China Censorship, Piracy Rules in Focus at Annual Legislative Meeting

Chinese President Xi Jinping

Cai Fuchao, director general of China's powerful media watchdog, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), said last week that the country's annual legislature meeting, which kicked off Thursday, aims at clarify existing law and possibly adding new legislation regulating the movie and TV industry.

SAPPRFT plans to coordinate with other departments to clarify and improve laws to better promote the film industry, while copyright laws and rules to protect intellectual property are also set to be reviewed and could be updated. Hollywood has long complained that the Chinese laws to protect movies against piracy are not adequate. Rules for censorship decisions are also expected to be in focus during the meeting.

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"We should reinforce our sense of law, form a rule of law thinking, and improve our ability to rule according to law," Cai said without providing more details. A lack of clarity about how censorship works is one of the main hurdles facing Hollywood as it tries to gain access to the booming China market.

Earlier this week, the deputy head of the China Directors' Guild, Wang Xingdong, called for the censorship of movies to be based on clear legal rules rather than on individual government officials' thinking.

Cai promised "a strict and effective law-making mechanism would be adopted during the legislature … to make full use of the existing laws to solve problems, and if necessary,...enhance their problem-solving capabilities."

"It is of vital importance to make such a law because it is essential to maintain the socialist ideology, Internet governance and development of [the] respective industries," said Cai.

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The annual National People's Congress (NPC) meeting starts on Thursday. The visuals are reminiscent of the great communist gatherings of the Cold War era, with red flags flying, lots of socialist realist slogans and unanimous applause for the endless speeches.

This year, slower economic growth, the fight against corruption, a new counter-terrorism law and reform of state-owned enterprises are likely to top the agenda. While it is largely a rubber-stamp meeting to approve laws already passed by the leadership of the ruling Communist Party, the NPC does provide insight into what the government thinks about current issues.

The Chinese entertainment industry is currently dealing with a tough crackdown on drug abuse across the industry, and censorship has of content deemed risque or politically suspect has been increased. But many in the industry feel that the rules are too arbitrary and there are no clear guidelines for filmmakers and TV producers to operate by.

The NPC is a reminder that China is still a communist country despite its capitalist trappings these days. The rhetoric at the NPC is often very Marxist-Leninist in tone.

This article was first published by The Hollywood Reporter.