China plans to let foreign companies take stakes in local television production companies, in a move that will give international media better access to the world's biggest market.
Beginning next Sunday, foreign broadcasters can form joint ventures or cooperation deals with Chinese partners to produce entertainment programming, including children's cartoons and television dramas, according to the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT).
However, the rules, viewed on the administration's Web site yesterday, retain the ban on foreign involvement in news and current affairs-related content.
Chinese partners in the new joint ventures must also hold a minimum stake of 51 percent, according to the rules. Foreign joint venture partners can only invest cash, while Chinese partners can contribute fixed assets such as property, said the administration, stating the regulations' aim is to "promote the development of the television production industry."
Such ventures will be overseen by provincial bureaus under the administration, China's media industry regulator.
Previously, only 30 foreign broadcasters were allowed to sell programming in southern China's Guangdong province, near Hong Kong, and also to upscale hotels and expatriate residential compounds. Under the new rules, joint venture production companies will be given the same treatment as domestic production companies.
That includes adhering to China's numerous restrictions on content. Authorities ban the broadcast of public dissent or politically sensitive programming and have recently stepped up censorship of anything deemed sensitive, obscene or otherwise unsuitable for family viewing.
At least two-thirds of the programming made by joint venture production companies must be based on Chinese themes and all programming must be approved by the Chinese side, the rules state.
"The country encourages the use and participation of Chinese professionals in programs made by joint-venture production companies," the rules say.
The regulations also apply to companies based in Hong Kong, Taiwan or Macau.
Despite the numerous limits, the new rules appear to clear the way for plans by international media groups to expand production and distribution in China.