There is a lot of press today about China's new regulation which appears to decree that only state-owned or state-controlled companies can show or stream online video. As usual, there's the literal reading, then there's the reading of the tea leaves.
Geoffrey Fowler at the Wall Street Journal has a solid story. As Andy Greenberg points out on Forbes.com, its unclear whether the rules will actually be enforced, or how, or whether they are a "shot across the bow."
For in-depth and informed analysis of the situation, be sure to read today's piece by the China Media Project's David Bandurski: Internet censors move to quiet debate on new online video and audio regulations. He reports that many Chinese journalists and news editors are strongly opposed to the new regulations, quoting two strongly worded editorials in Chinese newspapers (one of them already censored). With so much open opposition, chances are that the regulation is likely to get watered down in the way it's enforced.
Also be sure to read this analysis by Danwei's Jeremy Goldkorn, who feels that much of the Western media coverage has been guilty of "gross exaggeration." He agrees with Kaiser Kuo who wrote in late December: "My gut take on this is that it’s more about holding these video sharing and P2P companies responsible for naughty content than about trying to shake- or shut down the industry."
Reading Marbridge's summary of the regulations, it seems that the regulation's main thrust is threefold: First is to regulate all kinds of streaming video sites - some of them live - that have popped up with all kinds of content that you'll never see on officially sanctioned TV. Second is to regulate P2P video sharing which as Kaiser points out has a lot to do with porn. Third relates to Web2.0 "user-generated content" sites: Chinese YouTube clones like Tudou, Youku.com, 56.com. The regulations seem intended to create more uniform standards for censorship on Chinese online video-sharing sites, combined with a more uniform enforcement and "reporting" structure with SARFT (State Authority for Radio, Film, and Television) as the main government body to which these sites must answer.
All video sites hosted inside China will have to obtain licenses from SARFT and the MII (Ministry of Information Industry) in order to be legal. Thus it becomes easier to shut them down if they violate the terms of their licenses which would include stipulations about content control. The regulations also state that video sites are required to have either state ownership or state investment - however my hunch is that this element will likely be met with creative work-arounds. I would imagine that the larger companies with foreign investment and established brand names will still be able to operate as long as they make adjustments to the way in which their ownership and investment structures look on paper, obtain the required licenses, and adhere to the required censorship systems.
Its not as if China's video sharing sites haven't already been censoring content. All the established ones have been employing whole divisions of people whose job it is to monitor their services for objectionable content (porn and politically sensitive material), taking down anything that could cause trouble for their company. As John Kennedy of Global Voices reported during the Yilishen "ant farmer" protests, a lot of the protest videos uploaded onto Chinese sites got taken down quite quickly after being uploaded. Some people took it upon themselves to download and re-upload these protest videos to YouTube before they disappeared. This is all part of China's rapidly-evolving and increasingly sophisticated Web 2.0 censorship system, in which the private sector is expected to do much of the heavy lifting when it comes to censoring user-generated content. For more on how this system works see my recent blog posts Censorship 2.0 and Is Web 2.0 a wash for free speech in China?
Most press reports have been asking about YouTube. It is hosted outside of China and is thus subject to the whims of the Great Firewall. It has been blocked before, it can be blocked again. The only way for YouTube to avoid being blocked in China is to do a deal similar to the one they did for Google.cn, their Chinese search engine hosted inside China. and agree to censor content. So far, while Google agreed to censor its search engine, it has drawn the line at user-generated content and opted not to create a censored version of Blogspot.com, which tends to be blocked in China. If they plan to be consistent, they would refuse to censor YouTube as well... and just put up with being blocked. It will be interesting to see how they decide to proceed.