A few months after the announcement that the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television and the General Administration of Press and Publications would merge into the General Administration of Press, Publications, Radio, Film and Television, the State Council has published a list of the duties and structures (translated here) within the new overarching media regulator.
So what has changed?
First, and foremost, fifteen approval procedures are cancelled. Chinese media enterprises will no longer need ministerial approval to sell domestic publications at exhibitions abroad, to set up or merge chain retail bookstores, import compact disk production equipment, undergo military budgeting procedures when receiving assistance from troops in filmmaking, amongst others. Also, the approval requirement for film scripts is abolished, and replaced with a system of scenario outline publication. For foreign enterprises, the most important changes seem to be that approval is no longer required to import equipment used for Sino-foreign film co-productions, as well as for contracting post-production and processing work of foreign films.
Second, a number of tasks have been moved away from the new ministry. In the area of publication, a number of inspection tasks are moved to the respective sector associations. A number of other approval and inspection duties, including licensing for the establishment of CD reproduction facilities, permission for the change of TV station logos and for the establishment of satellite reception facilities. For foreign enterprises, it is noteworthy here that foreign copyright registration services are shifted to the China Copyright Protection Centre. Also, the approval of foreign personnel participating in the production of domestic Chinese television dramas and for bilateral film screening exchange agreements are transferred to the provincial level.
Third, a number of tasks are strengthened, indicating future policy priorities. Top priority is given to the provision of public service media. Furthermore, the GAPPRFT must support development of the media industry, further develop structural reform, enhance the development of digital, online and mobile media production and dissemination, strengthen copyright protection, increase the export of Chinese media products and develop innovative management ideas and techniques.
In structural terms, the GAPPRFT will be divided into 22 departments, two fewer than the combined strength of GAPP and SARFT. On the organizational chart, it appears that a number of primarily administrative departments of both ministries have been merged, including the Secretariat, the Legal Affairs Department, the Comprehensive Work Department, the International Department and the Human Affairs Department. In line with policy priorities, a Public Service Department is established, whose tasks are:
Formulating basic public service policies and guarantee standards for press, publications, radio, film and television, coordinating and moving forward the development of basic public services’ equalization and the integration of town and country. Organizing the implementation of major public interest projects, providing assistance to old, minority, border and poor regions, guiding and supervising the construction of corresponding focus infrastructure.
Another newly created department is the Import Department. It is likely that this new department will be the primary calling point for foreign media enterprises that are active on the Chinese media market. This department is charged with:
Undertaking import management of publications, radio and television programmes. managing foreign press, publications, radio, film and television organs setting up office organs in China according to the law. Conducting supervision and management of foreign radio and television import and broadcast, and the production and broadcast of Sino-foreign radio and television programme cooperation, as well as satellite television reception equipment and the landing and reception of foreign satellite television channels.
In terms of personnel, however, there is little change. In 2008, the combined personnel allocation for both ministries was 488, which has risen slightly to 508.
What does it mean?
As I wrote at the time that the merger was announced, I am convinced that this move is primarily an effort towards greater efficiency in media governance, and a response to technological developments, particularly in the field of converged media, that have brought the portfolios of SARFT and GAPP much closer together. Development of the media sector has become an increasingly high priority for the leadership over recent years, and the large number of administrative hoops, as well as overlap between different departments is widely seen as one of the structural factors impeding the success of local cultural goods and services. The list of abolished approval procedures seem to suggest that there is a willingness to do away with some unnecessary red tape, as well as a shift of attention away from technologies, such as CDs and radio, that are becoming less popular.
However, there is no indication that final control over the media sector will be loosened. While increasing efficiency and reducing bureaucracy certainly is a high priority, deregulation and liberalization aren’t.
This is exemplified by changes in the film censorship regime. While wishful thinking appeared in some media, claiming that the abolition of film scenario examination equates to an overall relaxation of film censorship, nothing of the sort is on the cards. As GAPPRFT indicates itself, this is a confirmation of practice that has become current already, which reduces the administrative burden on the censorship departments. It could even be argued that non-submission of scenarios actually enhances the effectiveness of censorship: the investment in a film now depends on approval that is only secured at the end of the production process, and is not checked before the production budget is spent. Hence, it seems probable that filmmakers will play matters safe.
For further background, see the following highly interesting analyses:
Paul Weiss: Two Powerful Chinese Media Regulators Merge