Global Glance: May 23, 2016
A quick look at intriguing international stories
By John Bostwick, Managing Editor, Radius
Welcome back to Global Glance. This week we look at:
Netflix and Amazon May Need to Meet Content Quotas in Europe
The Brussels-based European Commission is set to release a proposal this week that could, according to The Financial Times, force Netflix, Amazon and other video streaming services to “devote ‘at least’ 20 percent of their catalogues to European films and TV shows as part of an overhaul of the EU’s broadcasting rules.” According to the Times, video streaming services are now exempt from existing legislation that makes EU broadcasters meet similar quotas. The Times explains that the current and planned legislation exist “in order to make sure that viewers are not overwhelmed by US imports.” In other words, they exist to protect the EU from the ravenous Hollywood-culture machine.
Significantly, and also according to the Times, the legislation would compel Netflix and Amazon not only to program a certain percentage of European-sourced content, but also to contribute money to the “production of European works in countries where such levies are placed on national broadcasters.” Apparently, the proposal is “part of a wider plan to increase investment in the EU’s television and film industry.”
The Times goes on to quote Netflix as warning that the proposed legislation would create a “perverse incentive” for streaming companies to buy inexpensive programming to fulfill the minimum EU-content requirement. I confess I don’t understand why that follows. A bad movie will repel viewers whether or not it helps Netflix meet a legal quota. And quota or no, a streaming company’s primary concern is to attract viewers through quality content. That said, I agree that the pool of quality content would presumably shrink under a quota system, which necessarily places restrictions on the buyer.
For more on the possible effects of the proposed legislation check out this brief piece and accompanying chart from the London-based Ampere Analysis, titled “Netflix and Amazon Could Be Unaffected by 20% European Content Quota.” According to Ampere, the two companies would be in compliance with the proposed legislation if it were to go into effect right now, “depending on how strict the [European Commission’s] criteria are.” Even under a law with a stringent requirement that specifies that “the main country of origin had to be in Europe” (as opposed to “partially produced in a European country”), Amazon would now comply in its two primary EU markets of Germany and the UK. Netflix would, on the other hand, need to take some action “in the UK, Germany, Portugal, Netherlands, Poland and the Czech Republic — although not necessarily [much action]. In this instance, Germany would have to replace a total of three non-European titles in order to [comply] with the regulation.”
For another European take, read last Wednesday’s piece from EurActive.com. It notes that the EC’s proposed restrictions may extend to such areas as the protection of minors, including subjecting certain content such as violent or pornographic movies to “encryption and PIN codes.”
And for you legal eagles, EurActive.com managed to obtain a leaked copy of the EC’s proposal that can be found here.
A Couple Spends Their Wedding Night Transcribing China’s Constitution
My vote for the most hilarious lead in a major journal so far this year comes from a Guardian story published last week. It’s too good not to quote in full, so here it is: “In what may rank as one of the least romantic wedding nights in history, a Chinese couple reportedly spent their first night of marital bliss transcribing the Communist party’s 17,000-word constitution as part of a campaign designed to shore up support for President Xi Jinping’s administration.”
Those of us who don’t live under a repressive regime can afford to belly laugh at that one, and indeed for me it’s a gift that keeps on giving, one of those real-life situations that’s too implausibly absurd for any good or even halfway decent work of fiction. The couple, apparently two eager young bureaucrats from the Nanchang railway bureau, “saw the task as a way of creating ‘beautiful memories’ of their wedding night, their employer … wrote in an online message.”
A state-run newspaper reported that the couple’s bizarre night “was part of a Beijing-backed campaign called Copy the Chinese Communist party constitution for 100 days.” The campaign was launched in March and is designed to (of course) reinforce the Party line in the face of “western values.” At least some Chinese citizens remain unswayed by the initiative. The Guardian reports that after reading the story of the wedding-night transcription, one brave Chinese social media user wondered: “Does the party teach them how to make love?”
Of course, President Xi’s increasingly harsh efforts to, as The Guardian puts it, “root out unwelcome foreign influences, such as freedom of speech and western-style democracy” are hardly frivolous. For a current look at China’s president, read Andrew J. Nathan’s “Who Is Xi?” from the May 12 issue of The New York Review of Books. Nathan explains that Xi’s increasingly repressive measures and staunch commitment to the Party line are in some ways surprising, mostly because his family suffered severely under Mao. His father, for example, was according to Nathan variously almost executed, purged, tortured and sent into early retirement by the Party. And Xi himself was forced into backbreaking peasant labor “as the offspring of a ‘capitalist roader.’”
For these reasons and others, many experts expected Xi to act as a reformer when he assumed control of the Party. Instead, Nathan writes in a fine summary, “[Xi] has reinstated many of the most dangerous features of Mao’s rule: personal dictatorship, enforced ideological conformity, and arbitrary persecution.” Nathan explains that this paradox — that of a man who has been victimized by Mao and yet reveres him and carries on his legacy — can be explained by Xi’s historical situation. Xi and other current elite Party members are, in short, terrified of losing the substantial ground Mao and his contemporaries gained. Here’s Nathan again: “The second generation is privileged to live in a country that has ‘stood up’ and is globally respected and feared. They do not propose to be the generation that ‘loses the empire.’”
Needless to say, Xi’s “enforced ideological conformity” is not universally welcomed by those in China, and it is perhaps most reviled by those in the nominally autonomous Hong Kong. An article in last Wednesday’s Scotsman reported that thousands of police officers were charged with keeping the peace during an “inspection visit” last week by Zhang Dejiang, a high-ranking Party official. The Scotsman explains: “Discontent over Beijing’s tightening grip on Hong Kong has risen since pro-democracy street protests rocked the Asian financial hub in late 2014, and calls for independence from radical political groups have become common.”