China Limits Web Videos After Adultery Accusation

Sports anchor Hu Ziwei grabs the microphone and accuses her husband, also a sports anchor, of two-timing her. Screen grab via YouTube hide caption

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itoggle caption Screen grab via YouTube

Following an incident with a news anchor accused of cheating on his wife, posting Internet videos in China just got more complicated.

Sports anchor Zhang Bin was about to speak about changes to China Central Television's sports channel last month when his wife — also a TV show host — commandeered the microphone.

"Today is a special day for the Olympic Channel. It's also a special day for Mr. Zhang Bin. But it's also a special day for me, because two hours ago, I just found out that Mr. Zhang Bin was having an illicit relationship with another woman," Hu Ziwei told a small group attending the press conference.

She then likened her damaged marriage to the state of China's values.

An anonymous spectator captured the incident on video and promptly posted it on the Web. It didn't take long to go viral.

It was just the latest in a string of Web videos to draw the ire of Chinese officials. If all goes according to plan, however, soon such videos will cease to exist.

The week of the incident, the Chinese government announced that as of the end of the year, only government-owned or government-controlled Web sites will be able to post Internet videos. All Web sites containing video must obey a "socialist moral code" or risk being shut down.

Video sites are now scrambling to find out how the government will apply the rules. At the offices ofYouKu.com — one of the more successful Chinese video sites — staffers have turned to monitoring new videos as they are uploaded. In its one year in business, YouKu.com has attracted $40 million in venture capital and over 100 million video views a day. Founder Victor Koo is hopeful that China's government wants to develop sites such as his, not strangle them.

"There is certainly near-term regulatory as well as investment environment uncertainty, but if you look at the last 10 years, over 10 years of Internet development in China, the Chinese government has always been very proactive about development and working with Internet companies to create an environment for us to grow," Koo says.

China's government says it's trying to protect young people from obscene and violent content, but Reporters Without Borders, an organization that fights censorship, sees it differently. China is threatening the development of citizen journalism under the pretext of developing its media industry, the group charges.

Chinese blogger and journalist Wang Xiaofeng is also critical of the new rules, but he says that what's at stake is less hard-nosed journalism than fluffy entertainment.

"Chinese people are looking for fun but not finding any, so they turn to the Internet," he says. "Most Web sites just post videos that they think will attract more viewers. Only a very small proportion are related to social issues."

Wang points to the extremely popular "Accord Girl" series as an example. In her self-made videos, the anonymous young woman claims to be a 26-year-old Beijing resident who likes Honda sedans and men with money.

"No way I can even consider someone who makes less than a million a year. That's right. Look at housing prices in Beijing. How's a girl supposed to live with anything less than a million?"

A million Chinese yuan is about $130,000.

"So I have just one word for those guys who want to make nice, but don't even have cars and homes: scram! Don't come chasing after me to get your kicks," she says.

Some netizens dismiss the Accord Girl as a trashy cyber-vulgarian; others counter that she's just saying what many people her age really think — one of the many voices that will be more difficult to find online with the new regulations.

Correction Jan. 18, 2008

The broadcast version of this story incorrectly states that China is implementing new restrictions on cell phone videos. The restrictions are actually being placed on Internet videos.

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