File photo of TV show 'Super Girl Voice' at Hunan Satellite TV station recorded in June  2006.

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Super Girl, China's version of Pop Idol, is to be dropped from television schedules

Officials saw audience voting as too closely representing Western-style democracy

Financial Times  — 

Super Girl, China’s version of Pop Idol, is to be dropped from television schedules in spite of attracting 400m viewers at its peak, following government pressure on a programme that some officials saw as subversive because the audience voting too closely represented Western-style democracy.

Li Hao, deputy editor and spokesman of Hunan Satellite TV, which broadcast the show, was quoted as saying the changes were under disciplinary measures by the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television, and the broadcaster would soon launch new programming on morals, security and housework instead.

Super Girl has attracted regulatory scrutiny before. The show was first launched in 2004 and hit its 400m viewership peak in the final episode of the 2005 season, but was suspended once before and repeatedly criticised. Aside from unease about creating stars with the help of audience votes, officials criticised it as profane and “unhealthy”.

State media said SARFT was punishing the broadcaster because the show had frequently overrun its allotted time slot. However, the programming changes follow months of regulatory pressure on Hunan TV and was widely seen as a sobering reminder of the country’s censorship regime.

In May, Ouyang Changlin, director and Communist party secretary of Hunan Broadcasting System, the satellite TV station’s parent, told the Financial Times that HBS was revamping programming in response to new censorship demands.

Mr Ouyang, the chief architect of the network’s entertainment-focused strategy, said back then HBS had to make its programmes more acceptable to the authorities. SARFT officials had demanded that broadcasters should be led by “quality, responsibility and values”.

Super Girl, and similar talent shows made by the channel, will no longer be broadcast from next year, state media reported at the weekend. It is understood that currently SARFT has moved only against Hunan TV. HBS could not be reached for comment.

GroupM, the media group, forecast last week that television advertising spending in China will grow 13 per cent this year to Rmb201bn and jump another 14 per cent to Rmb229bn in 2012. Hunan TV holds the second-largest share of that, just after CCTV, the national broadcaster.

The tighter leash for Hunan TV highlights the often unpredictable nature of China’s media landscape, where fast-growing businesses are still expected to help the ruling Communist party monitor public opinion and enforce information controls.

Beijing’s propaganda authorities are also scrambling to optimise censorship of the internet, a media segment even more dynamic than television. China’s Weibo services, microblogs resembling Twitter, which is blocked in the country, have attracted hundreds of millions of users.

Charles Chao, chief executive of Sina, the company which runs the country’s leading microblog, said on Sunday that the services posed a serious challenge to the government, and the company was looking into how to better control information flows on Weibo.