China took another step towards complete government control of the Internet by removing several U.S. television shows from Chinese video sites. It gave no explanation for its action.
Among the yanked shows were the Big Bang Theory, NCIS, The Practice and The Good Wife, said the official Xinhua news agency.
The removal of the shows comes after a recent directive from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), the broadcast industry regulator, that made it more difficult to broadcast TV programs and short films online.
A SARFT directive said programs and films lacking licenses are not permitted to be shown online. Penalties include a warning and a fine. In serious cases, SARFT will impose a five-year ban on an offender's operations and investment in online programming.
The People's Daily, the Chinese Communist Party's main mouthpiece, said in a commentary justifying the ban on the American shows that there can be no Internet freedom without order.
Analysts said the removal of the shows follows a widening suppression of online freedom of expression that has intensified since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2013. This growing state control of the Internet has drawn criticism from rights advocates in China and overseas.
"While ordinary people and governments have enjoyed the conveniences brought by the Internet, they have also in turn experienced the Internet's negative effects and hidden security dangers," said a commentary in the People's Daily written by someone using the alias "Zhong Sheng," which means "Voice of China."
"If you don't have Internet order, how can you have Internet freedom? Anyone enjoying and exercising their Internet rights and freedoms must not harm the public interest and cannot violate laws and regulations and public ethics," said Zhong Sheng.
The Communist Party last year renewed a campaign on online interaction, threatening legal action against people whose perceived rumors on microblogs like Sina Weibo, are reposted more than 500 times or seen by more than 5,000 people.
The campaign has muted online demands from advocates of transparency, who see it as a tool to punish Party critics.
Pornography is illegal in China, but critics say the crackdown on material deemed obscene is an extension of government attempts to tighten its grip on the Internet.