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More Officials Appointed to Lead Film and Media Authorities in China

On May 24, 2018, China filled the top positions at the State Bureau of Film (Film Bureau) and State Administration of Press and Publication (SAPP). Both appointments fill vacancies created by the dismantling of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) and continue apparent Communist Party of China (CPC) efforts to assert greater control over the film and media industries.

Propaganda Department Officials to Lead Film Bureau and SAPP

Mr. Wang Xiaohui has been appointed to lead the Film Bureau, while Mr. Zhuang Rongwen will lead SAPP. These developments follow the earlier appointment of Mr. Nie Chenxi, who ran SAPPRFT prior to its elimination earlier this year, to lead the State Administration of Radio and Television (SART).

With these appointments, all three leaders of China’s principal film and media authorities (Wang, Zhuang, and Nie) now concurrently hold positions in the Propaganda Department of the CPC. The same is true of Mr. Shen Haixiong, the top official for the Central Station for Radio and Television (CSRT). Such dual postings for these officials, and the government reorganization in March, appear indicative of CPC efforts to more tightly regulate and exert influence over these key industries. These appointments and reforms are likely to manifest in a number of ways moving forward, perhaps including tighter censorship of films and other media and stricter adherence to Party ideology.

Background on Reform of Film, Television, and Related Authorities

Among other substantial institutional reforms initiated in March, Chinese authorities eliminated SAPPRFT and announced a major restructuring of government oversight over film, radio and television, and press and publishing at the national level. Such reforms resulted in three new authorities in lieu of SAPPRFT:

  • SART: SART was established as a new agency directly under the State Council to regulate radio and television matters other than broadcast news. However, as such radio and television oversight was under the State Council before the restructuring, SART’s similar organizational placement may indicate possible continuity of the regulation of such radio and television matters.

The agency will be responsible for functions including drafting and overseeing implementation of policies for the radio and television industry, managing content review and censorship of radio, television, and online audiovisual programs, supervising the importation of radio and television programs, and coordinating and promoting the exposure of Chinese radio and television programs worldwide. The foregoing applies whether such content is live action or animated.

  • Film Bureau: Rather than the prior approach that placed theatrical film-related authorities within an agency directly under the State Council, the newly-formed Film Bureau is now within the Propaganda Department of the CPC. For reference, another example of a state function that is somewhat analogously under the direct control of the CPC is Internet/cybersecurity regulation.

Following the government reorganization, the Propaganda Department will be responsible for theatrical film-related functions such as managing film administrative affairs, guiding and supervising film production, distribution, and exhibition, coordinating content review and censorship of films (both live action and animated), arranging festivals and other film events of national significance, and carrying out international cooperation including film co-productions.

  • SAPP: Similar to changes implemented for film, the press and publishing functions of SAPPRFT are now within the Propaganda Department and will be carried out by the newly-established SAPP. This office also takes the title National Copyright Administration of China (NCAC).

Press and publishing-related functions of the Propaganda Department now include drafting and overseeing implementation of policies for the press and publishing industry, coordinating content review and censorship of publications (including those containing cartoons), and supervising the importation of such publications.

Copyright-related functions of the Propaganda Department include registering certain copyrights at the national level and administration of related matters. Specifically, works (excepting software) owned by non-mainland Chinese parties are registered at the national level, while such works owned by mainland Chinese parties are registered locally. The Copyright Protection Center of China or its local offices will handle copyright registrations relating to software.

Additionally, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism (MOCT) will continue to have a role in coordinating content review and censorship of online games. MOCT will also continue to regulate music that is produced for or disseminated over the Internet. However, other forms of music fall within SAPP’s purview. Industrial policy for the animation industry also remains under MOCT’s management and supervision.

Radio and television broadcast news was previously regulated by several authorities. Such oversight is now carried out by the newly-formed CSRT. CSRT’s organizational placement is somewhat unique among the authorities discussed in this client alert: while established directly under the State Council (like SART and MOCT), CSRT reports to the Propaganda Department (like SAPP and the Film Bureau). This hybrid approach is not without precedent. For example, the Cyberspace Administration of China (an agency established under the State Council) has reported to the CPC’s Office of the Central Leading Group for Cyberspace Affairs for some time.

Local Implementation

Chinese authorities have not yet released their plans for implementing these reforms at the local level. Until those plans are finalized and made public (likely late in 2018), we anticipate continued uncertainty about the current and future organizational structure of local authorities. For example, some national level authorities have identified information about local branches on their respective websites (e.g., SART, NCAC). In other instances, some local authorities have advised that the longstanding organizational structure (which groups functions relating to press, publication, radio, film and television all together) remains intact at the local level.

Overview Chart

The following chart summarizes at a high-level certain details about the foregoing agencies, current as of the date of this alert:

AGENCY NAME CHIEF OFFICIAL CONCURRENT CPC POSTING ORGANIZATIONAL PLACEMENT RELEVANT SPHERE OF OVERSIGHT
SART Mr. Nie Chenxi Deputy Minister, Propaganda Department State Council Regulate radio and television matters other than broadcast news
Film Bureau Mr. Wang Xiaohui Deputy Minister, Propaganda Department CPC Propaganda Department Theatrical film-related oversight, including film co-productions
SAPP/

 

NCAC

Mr. Zhuang Rongwen Deputy Minister, Propaganda Department CPC Propaganda Department Press and publishing-related oversight;

 

National-level copyright registrations and administration

MOCT Mr. Luo Shugang n/a State Council Content review and censorship of online games;

 

Regulate Internet music

CSRT Mr. Shen Haixiong Deputy Minister, Propaganda Department Hybrid (under State Council, but reports to CPC Propaganda Department) Regulate radio and television broadcast news
© 2019 Covington & Burling LLP

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Timothy Stratford, International trade lawyer, Covington
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Tim Stratford is managing partner in Covington & Burling LLP’s Beijing office and a member of the International Trade, Corporate and Public Policy Practice Groups.  Mr. Stratford’s practice is focused on advising international clients doing business in China and assisting Chinese companies seeking to expand their businesses globally.  As a former Assistant U.S. Trade Representative, Mr. Stratford is the most senior former U.S. trade official working as a member of the U.S. business community in China.  Except for the five years he spent in Washington, D.C. in...

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Jason Goldberg, Corporate lawyer, Covington
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Jason Goldberg leads the firm’s entertainment, sports and media practice in China. As one of only a handful of true entertainment lawyers currently practicing in China, Mr. Goldberg advises media companies, motion picture studios, producers, directors, actors and other talent, sports leagues, financial institutions and investment funds on their activities in the PRC.

Mr. Goldberg ‘s clients have included a number of major Hollywood motion picture studios with respect to projects in China, including studio titles intended for wide international distribution and local productions primarily for the China market. His practice covers film financing, development, talent agreements, production, foreign direct investment, strategic cooperation and joint ventures, copyright, rights acquisitions, distribution, and other aspects of the media and entertainment industry in China. Mr. Goldberg also advises on the licensing of entertainment content to internet sites and other content distributors.

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Christopher Adams Regulatory and public policy attorney, Covington
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Christopher Adams advises clients on matters involving China and the region. A non-lawyer, Mr. Adams recently served as the Senior Coordinator for China Affairs at the Treasury Department. He coordinated China policy issues across the U.S. government, led negotiations with China on a broad range of trade and investment issues, managed the highest level U.S.-China economic policy dialogues for the Obama and Trump administrations, and advised the Treasury Secretary and other cabinet officials.

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Nicholas R. Francescon, Corporate lawyer, Covington
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Nick Francescon is a member of the firm’s entertainment, sports and media practice in China, which advises media companies, studios, producers, talent, sports leagues and associations and financial institutions and investment funds on their activities in the PRC. As one of the only entertainment lawyers on the ground in China with substantial Hollywood and international experience, Mr. Francescon is uniquely suited to advise Chinese entertainment and media companies on their outbound projects, as well as uniquely positioned to understand the perspective of international entertainment and...

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Grace Gao, Covington, Corporate attorney
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Grace Gao advises on transactions in media and entertainment industry, including advice to Hollywood production companies and other foreign motion picture and TV drama companies on projects in China, as well as advice to Chinese companies on investment in projects overseas. Ms. Gao’s legal experience include negotiation of development, production and distribution deals relating to film, TV drama, and game industries.

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