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Strict Rules to Rein in TV Talent Contest
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China's broadcasting watchdog has issued a list of rules to uphold high moral standards on a sequel of the popular TV talent contest "Super Girls", a Chinese version of American Idol.

"Happy Boys" should include only "healthy and ethically inspiring" songs and try to avoid "gossip" about the contestants and scenes of fans screaming and wailing, or losing contestants in tears, said the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT).

In a notice to the broadcaster in the central province of Hunan, the SARFT said the entire talent show should "maintain a happy atmosphere", calling scenes of wailing and screaming "low taste".

The watchdog restricted the nationwide broadcast of "Happy Boys" from May 1 to July 15 and banned the word "Super" from the original title.

The SARFT also set a minimum age for contestants at 18 and decreed their hairstyles, clothes, fashion accessories, language and manners should be in line with the mainstream values.

"No weirdness, no vulgarity, no low taste," the notice said.

It also banned scandal-dogged or controversial artists as judges and prohibited judges from mocking or humiliating contestants. Judges were ordered to refrain from "showing off in order to gain popularity".

The show's hosts were encouraged to talk about contestants' inspiring stories rather than indulge in displays of "low taste".

The SARFT also banned contestants from outside the Chinese mainland, but without giving a reason.

Hunan TV president Ouyang Changlin said the station would abide by the SARFT rules for the program, but would make no further comment.

Hunan TV's "Super Girls" drew 400 million viewers for the finale of its four-month run in 2005 and helped contestants, including the winner, Li Yuchun, gain nationwide celebrity.

But "Super Girls" also drew official and public criticism for promoting "vulgarity" and discouraging youngsters from living life practically by providing instant celebrity.

Conservative critics said the changing taste of viewers indicated declining moral standards.

Liu Zhongde, former vice-minister of culture sparked a heated public debate last year by describing "Super Girls" as vulgar and degrading.

Liu, who is also a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said the show "preached the wrong concept of instant riches and fame".

The criticisms prompted fans to defend the show on Internet.

"People have the right to do what they want, and young people have the right to judge and choose what they need," an anonymous commentator said.

Shortly after Liu's criticism, a group of personalities from China's Central Television (CCTV), cultural officials and celebrities accused "Super Girls" of lacking creativity. Liu and his followers called on the central government to ban the program.

Many of China's provincial TV channels have engaged in fierce competition for young viewers with entertaining reality shows in contrast to the traditional, and increasingly less popular, fare of televised galas featuring inspirational performances by established artists.
(Xinhua News Agency April 6, 2007)

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