SARFTIG, or phat SARFT

In the Hutong
Dodging buses filled with People’s Representatives
0817 hrs.

As the National People’s Congress (NPC) and China People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) get going, I cast my eyes once again upon the Stte Administration for Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT,) that much-reviled rump of what once was the mighty Ministry of Radio, Film and Television (MRFTV).

SARFT would really like to see it’s remit expanded, lest it dry up and blow away in the next year, like it almost did ten years ago. We’re going to see another round of government reorganization in the next 1218 months – mark my words, because you heard it here first – and one of the questions that will be bounced around is whether or not SARFT should continue to exist as a separate organization, or whether it should be broken up and chunks poured into the MII, the Ministry of Culture, or simply pushed into freestanding enterprises.

What I expect SARFT to do (or, what I would do if I were Minister, or WIWDIIWM for short, since we appear to be going a little bananas with acronyms today,) is make a play to be formally handed oversight of content on the Internet and all forms of video games. If you are an ambitious cadre looking for stuff to regulate (and this town is full of them, I can tell you,) that’s where I would be looking.

One in ten Chinese is online. That’s a juicy target by itself. SARFT has a great “in” there, too: the growing IPTV sector. Hmm. Television via the Internet? Sounds like a job for SARFTman!

And games? Think of it. There are probably 3 million people playing with a gaming console of some type or another. There are probably 7 million people playing massively-multiplayer online games (MMOGs). Nearly every PC sold in China sells with at least one game on it (Solitaire) and there is no statistic for how many shrinkwrapped games are sold for those computers. Most of China’s Internet users spend some part of their time online playing games. There are 470 million mobile phone users, and every one of them has at least one game on their handsets. The damned things are everywhere, and NOBODY is regulating them.

The push to regulate has already begun. That little spaz the regulators are having about iCafes? That’s ALL about people playing games. Game-related mishaps get more coverage than murders – there was a huge hue and cry after one of my neighbors here in the Hutong, a lonely, overweight 26 year old addicted to his TV and his computer, died over the New Year holiday while playing video games.

So I see SARFT pushing to regulate it all – radio, film, television, Internet, and games. They have to – it is the law of the bureaucratic jungle: expand your remit, or shrink and die. SARFT has spent the last 10 years fighting a rearguard action against its own demise. With a sympathetic administration in place, this is the time to strike.