We need choice on TV not constraint

Updated: 2011-10-28 13:58

By Craig McIntosh (chinadaily.com.cn)

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I don't know if I could list all the great shows I loved as a child. It would take me ages. There were cartoons, of course, like Tom and Jerry, The Racoons and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and there were realistic teen dramas like Grange Hill and Degrassi High.

If I'm honest, though, what really got me gripped – what had me running for the couch whenever I heard the theme tune – were those absolutely wacky shows that had very little point than to simply keep me quiet for 30 minutes so "mum can put her head down" (or, more accurately, enjoy a crafty cigarette on the patio).

These shows are all color and noise: screaming children, middle-aged hosts pretending to be over-excited and soundtracks that make the ears bleed.

Little did I know that what I've just described would become the template for modern entertainment programs: American Idol, Britain's Got Talent, Jeopardy. All of these have one, if not all, of the ingredients I just described.

However, television is the sum of its parts, and we cannot judge it solely on the crass efforts of Simon Cowell and his plethora of "talent" (read: modern-day freak) shows. The goal for channels is to provide choice. For nature-lovers there are wildlife documentaries, for those interested in what's going on around the world there are daily news bulletins, and for those looking to get updates on friends and family there's Crimewatch.

Ultimately, what the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television has done with its latest order to prevent "vulgar" television is to prevent choice.

Starting Jan 1, satellite TV stations in China will be limited to a maximum of two entertainment programs a week and will be able to broadcast such shows for only 90 minutes during primetime.

Having had Chinese television as my only source of entertainment for several months when I first arrived, I can honest say I think we should be encouraging producers to inject more entertainment, rather than take it out. When I surf through the channels all I see are costume dramas and old movies.

However, rather than give a pat on the back to those who think outside of the box, channels are being told to instead commission shows that promote traditional virtues and socialist core values.

Coming in the wake of the case of Wang Yue, a 2-year-old girl who died after being run over and then ignored by passers-by in Foshan, I can understand why authorities want to promote values among society. I just don't feel television is the best medium to accomplish that.

The SARFT's action suggests that if someone watches Jersey Shore they are going to be using curse words and getting a fake tan, but if they watch a cultural show they'll be more likely to assist a child dying in the street. I don't buy it.

I have no problem with parents deciding what their child watches on TV, but adults should be able to make their own minds up.

Craig McIntosh is deputy news director of China Daily.