Film ratings system “news” is a five-year-old interview

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Tong Gang in 2004

On February 2, Beijing Business Today ran a report under the headline “Tong Gang: A film ratings system will not permit Cat-III films.” The article reported that China had completed work on a law that would implement a film ratings system without opening the door to porn, and featured extensive quotes from Film Bureau director Tong Gang.

Implementing a film ratings system is a contentious issue that has been kicking around for years, so Tong’s disclosure, if correct, has the potential to bring major changes to the domestic film industry.

Too bad it’s not true: the director did utter the words quoted in the article, but he said them in an interview with The Beijing News in 2004.

But it was too good of a story to fact-check: excerpts from the article were re-printed in China Culture Daily, a newspaper run by the Ministry of Culture. That article then appeared on the Ministry’s website, where it was quickly picked up by major online news portals. Xinhua wrote up an English-language article citing the Ministry of Culture website as a source:

“The government has been conducting discussion, investigation and opinion solicitation to establish a rating system,” Tong said, “but our system will be definitely different from those in other countries or regions.”

Tong said he had supported a movie rating system in China when he was interviewed by a TV program in Singapore and he expressed a will to take Hong Kong’s rating system as a reference during a visit to the SAR.

“However, my utterance has been overexplained and even distorted by some media reports,” Tong said. “A rating system in China will not mean that we will allow depictions of porn or violence in the movies for sales and screen,” he said.

On Friday, the Beijing Youth Daily called the Film Bureau for confirmation and was told, “It’s fake news. Director Tong has not expressed any opinion on a movie ratings system recently. We’re currently looking into the matter.”

The newspaper did some digging and discovered that the Tong Gang quotes were identical to a report from that ran in the Jiangnan Times on February 24, 2004 (itself a summary of the earlier interview in The Beijing News).

How it happened is still a mystery:

Reached for comment yesterday, the Beijing paper’s reporter said that at a particular film premiere, she had indeed asked Tong Gang some basic questions about a film ratings system. But she offered no explanation as to why the information was identical to five-year-old article.

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