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“They can’t have it both ways. That is the real conflict. This is not really about culture at all, it’s about politics,” Bandurski said.

The new restrictions also contain a strong commercial element in that they stand to favor central government broadcaster CCTV, which has been struggling for viewers despite its monopoly on nationwide terrestrial television. Authorities last month had already ordered leading competitor Hunan Satellite to suspend broadcasts of the hugely popular “American Idol” type singing contest “Super Girl,” allegedly for running overtime.

The restrictions had been expected for some time and media reports said stations were already tailoring their programming to conform. Most were already cutting contest shows in which viewers vote for their favorite contestant, a concept frowned on by party cadres who don’t permit competitive elections or other facets of Western-style democracy.

The producer of a popular dating program on Shanghai satellite station Dragon TV called “Pick One From a Hundred” referred questions on programming to station managers who did not answer their phones.

“I’m OK with the new rule. The authorities have their reasons for issuing it and we just need to go along,” Shao Zhiyu said.