Chinese video site says content purge is ‘self-censorship’

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Page Not Found on Bilibili. Photo: Bilibili

Bilibili, a popular online video streaming site in China, has claimed that the recent removal of mostly foreign TV series and films on its website is a result of self-censorship.

In response to questions from Chinese news site The Paper, during a company event on Sunday, the company’s chairman, Chen Rui, said the removal was “entirely due to strategic adjustment of content” and driven by internal decision-making.

Bilibili was one of two popular online video streaming sites – along with AcFun – to pull foreign content, including popular dramas from the US, UK and South Korea, on July 12, sparked outrage from Chinese viewers. The sites – part of an industry referred to as ACG (“Animation-Comic-Game”) – are very popular among Chinese millennials, who relish being able to watch foreign dramas and animes on Chinese platforms.

Chen said the “strategic adjustment” would last “another one to two months”. Content that does not pass a “review” will not be reinstated, he said, adding that shows on the site that had been culled by mistake will be reinstated.

“The government has currently listed some requirements regarding content for online streaming sites,” Chen told The Paper. “I feel that the development of Bilibili has reached a certain scale, which would require some internal inspection.”

Clamping down

Chinese authorities have been on a drive to clamp down on online media in recent months. At least 60 social media accounts relating to celebrity news and gossip were closed down in early June, after the country’s biggest internet companies, including Baidu Tencent and Youku, met with cyberspace authorities.

From July 5, Bilibili has required its users to register their real names, if they wish to upload videos. This new rule came after the country’s media regulators ordered three online sites, including AcFun and Sina Weibo, to stop video-streaming services as they did not have the audio-visual licenses to do so.

China’s top media watchdog, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) issued a guideline earlier this month requesting provincial television stations to include more content recommended by the central government. The agency also warned stations to broadcast “less entertaining plays” in the lead-up to the Party Congress in the autumn.

Red influence

While there have been reports that recent censorship is due to copyright issues, many Chinese netizens are skeptical.

“I think Bilibili CEO’s statement on self-censorship is just typical PR speech. Which online site would dare to admit that its content is under review by the authorities?” said Peter Xu, a young professional and a frequent Bilibili user who declined to give his real name.

“There are now a lot of ‘party elements’ on Bilibili that try to steer the discourse on there”

Xu added that while he uses the site mostly to watch anime, he is worried that the crackdown might extend to that genre in the future. “Even the TV shows that are acquired by Bilibili with proper licensing are being pulled down. I wonder what will happen to animes in future.”

Some netizens said they believed the crackdown goes hand in hand with an attempt to push content “approved” by the Chinese authorities, especially that which exalts the party. A popular Weibo post comprising a screenshot of dramas available following the crackdown showed the drama section to contain mostly older, locally-produced dramas. It gathered close to 40,000 likes.

Xu alluded to the influence of the Communist Youth League, after it announced its “official presence” on Bilibili back in January . “There are now a lot of ‘party elements’ on Bilibili that try to steer the discourse on there. I fear that Bilibili will no longer be a simple site that caters to the anime subculture in future.”

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