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China to regulate online video clips?

Must get official approval

Broadcast yourself? Not if China's regulators have anything to say about it, according to Chinese media reports today.

YouTube.com, along with Chinese video websites and the clips they host, may soon require approval for posting and distribution. Aside from a general dislike for internet content that has not undergone an official approval process, China's Sarft (State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television) is responding to criticism of popular satire clips, including a parody of movie director Chen Kaige's recent film 'The Promise'.

Sina, Sohu.com, and Netease.com are approved to carry video clips, the state-run China Daily said today.

Although Sarft said it may step in against internet-distributed video clips and short films, it technically may not have the authority to do so. Under a long-standing Chinese regulatory definition, Sarft regulates broadcasts, and broadcasts are defined as media sent over airwaves, satellite, or terrestrial cable to a television. Because internet content is transmitted to PCs via telephone or broadband lines, they are technically not broadcasts, and would fall under the purview of the MII (Ministry of Information Industry).

Who will ultimately get to regulate internet-based broadcasts is an ongoing point of contention between Sarft and the MII, as the two compete for control over increasingly converged media such as IPTV.

"It is only a matter of time before Sarft issues regulations covering the full range of streaming online content," said David Wolf, chief executive officer of Wolf Group, a Beijing-based media and technology consultancy. "In the minds of China's regulators, this is merely broadcast by other means, and is thus subject to the same legal constraints as conventional radio and television."

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