On June 7th, a number of entertainment public social media accounts in mainland China (see the news report by the South China Morning Post) were shut down by the authority. According to the Cyberspace Administration of China, the censorship authority for all new media platforms, these entertainment accounts cast a threat to public order, as they are likely to promote vulgar contents such as violence and pornography, disclosing too much celebrities’ privacy and unhealthy personal lives, or containing monstrous and exaggeratedly bizarre pictures or videos. Another review by the New York Times pinpointed the tricky aspect of this issue: when entertainment news and sports news were previously regarded as “safe and free” areas of news reporting, the cracking down of these public accounts indicated an extended mode of content regulation. Another perplexed puzzle is that, defined as a crucial component of “cultural industry,” the strategic development of entertainment and new media have been written into several waves of Five-Year Plans.
My quick reflection on this “news occurrence” is twofold. First, based on a humble guess, the motivation for the authority to initiate such censorship – like some of those content regulations imposing on entertainment contents but unlike those on politically sensitive or “national security-related” contents – is that they believe ordinary audiences might imitate or legitimize those lifestyles defined to be “unhealthy” and “negative,” such as, but not limited to, extramarital affairs, law violation, showing off, binge drinking and drug abuse, plus (possibly) excessively materialistic lifestyles. A strong media effect is presumed. The third-person effect can also spell the logic out: only a small group of smart people can distinguish the right from wrong, whilst the general netizens are less enlightened.
Secondly, the real paradox is that, in a context where the media system is relatively not free (of course, it depends on the benchmark of “free” – a handy reference is that how much “independence,” or “dependence” the media agencies can enjoy), media has the function of “empowerment:” everything appears on the media is legitimate and endorsed by the authorities. This is a myth that should be corrected, and one crucial way, though may not be the best one, is to grant a more open and diverse media landscape and return the right for decision-making back to the audiences themselves. In the vein of entertainment (or just like sports), perhaps the neo-liberal interpretation of market functions perfectly. One can always vote for or against his or her (entertainment) idols (setting aside running the risk of objectifying those celebrities for a while). The Media System Dependency theory argues that people rely on media the most when the situation they are living in is uncertain and unstable. Based on the theory, perhaps a rapid development of entertainment media, though somewhat not that decent for a while, is the result of limited competence in reporting issues on government, politics, and the public. This in turn promotes a rapid growth of online content providers. One may ask, what will happen if the entertainment media is constrained as well? In balancing the benefits and demands among media, politics, stakeholders, and audience, there is still a long way to proceed.
(This picture is in the public domain and it is obtained from: https://pixabay.com/en/news-information-reading-1483109/)