No surgery or sex please, we're on Chinese TV

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The Independent Online

China is clamping down on television shows deemed vulgar or in poor taste – no sexually explicit programmes, nothing featuring sex toys and contraceptives and anything involving sex change operations or real-life cosmetic surgery is off the air.

China wants to the fill the ether with solid communist values ahead of a high-level party congress next month, where President Hu Jintao will cement his power base.

Chinese TV is remarkbly chaste and nudity or even the softest of porn are completely unthinkable on air. But reality-TV shows have been screening bawdy behaviour and exhibitionism, to the authorities' irritation.

The campaign against "vulgar" television has already shut down one programme known for its contestants with wild hair and unhealthy songs – The First Heart-throb, a spectacularly chaotic version of Britain's Pop Idol broadcast by Chongqing TV.

The programme has been on air since last year and attracted 100,000 contestants countrywide, garnering high ratings. However, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (Sarft) has taken it off the air because of its "vulgar taste and low quality".

Growing affluence in China and increased competition between regional broadcasters means there is greater demand for this type of show, often at the expense of the traditional, patriotic performances favoured by the Communist government.

"The First Heart-throb caters to low-grade interests ... seriously damaging the image of television media and inducing social blights," Sarft said. What Sarft says, goes. He Wei, vice-president of Chongqing TV, said his station would follow the order.

Among its sins were failures by presenters and producers to take effective measures to deal with the "chaotic situations", such as contestants insulting judges, causing people to cry on-air and a general lack of "social responsibility and professional skills".

The state broadcasting watchdog recently banned programmes featuring surgery and sex-change operations. Beautiful Makeover, a reality show in the southern province of Guangdong which showed scenes of plastic surgery operations, was axed. "All levels of television broadcasters must not plan or produce sex change or plastic surgery programmes involving public participation (including news, specials or interviews), effective immediately," Sarft said.

Sarft also criticised other provincial stations broadcasting "lewd and obscene" images. "All levels of television broadcasters must not air any vulgar content involving sexual experiences or functions of sex toys and birth control devices, effective immediately," Sarft said. It also has told the state broadcaster CCTV to rein in racy advertisers.

An online poll found most Chinese viewers were in favour of banning vulgar television – nearly three quarters backed banning The First Heart-throb, and only 4 per cent objected. When asked if Chinese television was becoming increasingly vulgar, 95 per cent answered yes. "Chinese talent shows should not focus on audience ratings, but on taste," said one university student, Zhao Yang, 24, in a web posting.

The government is also keeping a lid on any controversial movies before the 17th Party Congress, due to start on 15 October. Only visions of China's "harmonious society" will make the cinema screens and the period around the meeting will be known as Outstanding Golden Domestic Film Exhibition Month.

Among the films hit by the rules will be Ang Lee's racy wartime drama Lust, Caution. The Chinese market is already getting a toned-down version of the steamy movie, and it has now been postponed until after the congress ends.

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