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Why Was Super Girl Banned?
Summary:China's version of American Idol fell foul of the state broadcasting watchdog, which ordered the program off air for running overtime, but it was the program's resemblance to American democracy that really riled regulators.

By Zhu Chong (朱冲), a journalist with the Economic Observer's Lifestyle section

EO Online,

Translated by Zhu Na

Original article: [Chinese]




One of China’s most popular television shows, Hunan TV’s Super Girl, an annual singing contest modeled on American Idol, has been ordered to stop airing next year.

Why? The authorities said that “the program has run overtime on many occasions”. Are there also restrictions on the length of television programs? If so, how are they determined? By audiences’ preferences or by authorities’ requirements? Clearly, in this case, a highly popular program was called off air because it ran overtime, which shows that the authorities, not the viewers, decide the length of programs.

So, are we going back to the ways of the planned economy, when everything was set by government dictate? If not, why are administrators setting the duration of programs, a decision that falls under the responsibility of a broadcaster’s management? Perhaps you might think that broadcasting isn’t a business, but it generates advertising and distribution fees – isn’t that how businesses work? Wasn't it just a week ago that Premier Wen told business leaders in Dalian that China is a fully-open market economy.

The issue of overtime might just be superficial, with the crux of the issue probably lying elsewhere. Look at the authorities' previous instructions to the program: don’t air in prime time, don’t let viewers vote, don’t let contestants cry on stage.

The “don’t let viewers vote” order deprived the television station of an important source of income. According to data from 2005, when Super Girl was at its peak, viewers voting by text message generated over a hundred million yuan for Hunan TV.

The government ought to have welcomed the extra tax receipts from the program's text message revenue, but banned them instead. Maybe the main issue is audience voting. The reason that people enjoy watching Super Girl isn't that they want to see how well ordinary people sing or because the contestants are beautiful - many of them look like boys. The real reason for the show's populariry is that it put viewers in control; with the push of a buttom they were able to pick the Super Girl and the runner up. 

Some people sigh: what if China’s elections were conducted through votes as on Super Girl? What if Chinese officials, like the television show’s contestants, competed for votes? What if Chinese people could decide the fate of officials and society by the press of a button?

This is really the most senstive issue.

Here's where you really went wrong, Hunan TV, you were already banned from letting viewers vote by text message, but you still arranged 1,000 so-called public judges on the set, and even split them up into five regions. Are you trying to copy the United States’ election model, “the Democrats have won 22 states, the Republicans are ahead in 18 states, and the rest are undecided?”


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