If there is anything at all you can always count on from John Oliver of HBO, it is that he never shies off controversial topics.
And true to it all, the acclaimed British comedian and ‘Last Week Tonight’ show host seems to have reserved his sharpest words for domestic issues, in particular, concerning the Trump administration personnel.
However, in his most recent episodes, he took on China’s President Xi Jinping, together with the infamous Chinese censors—a war he ultimately lost.
According to Greatfire.org, a censorship monitoring group, HBO’s website was completely blocked in China only days after reports indicated that Chinese platform Weibo banned all new posts that mention John Oliver as well as his show, Last Week Tonight.
Weibo apparently blocked all new posts associated with Oliver as well as all searches for “Shangzhou jinye Xiu,” the Chinese name for the HBO show.
Any attempts to access the HBO website in China were unsuccessful afterward. Even the HBO Asia website, a broadcast network based in Singapore and which airs HBO content within China, also appeared blocked.
Oliver’s segment on the Chinese president is now also unavailable on streaming sites in China where individual users have uploaded other episodes of the show.
YouTube, where other clips of the show can be found, is also apparently blocked in China.
HBO is yet to respond to any requests for comments on the alleged censorship of the British comedian.
HBO & China
An AT&T-owned unit, HBO has been selling content to the significantly growing Chinese online streaming market now at $14.5 billion—but under stringent censorship rules.
In China, HBO licenses several shows, among them ‘Band of Brothers’ as well as ‘Game of Thrones.’ The streaming services of Chinese internet firm Tencent Holdings Limited, which has a partnership with HBO, were still on even by Tuesday morning.
U.S.-based movie production and television firms have been looking to get more access to the fast-growing China entertainment market where there is a significant surge in premium content demand.
In the past five years, the annual online streaming revenue has been developing by about 50 percent, according to iResearch reports. In fact, China’s box office revenue is now projected to surpass that of Hollywood and Bollywood by 2020.
Oliver’s Comments and the Resulting Impacts
In the ‘Last Week Tonight’ episode, Oliver mocked Xi Jinping’s seeming sensitivity over
comparisons of his figure with that of Winnie the Pooh, the main character of A. A. Milne’s children’s book series.
It, unfortunately, resulted in all Winnie the Pooh images, which were used to make fun of Xi, being banned.
In his comments, Oliver stated that the best move if your face resembles, however slightly, that of a much-loved cartoon character, is leaning in.
He said this while also exhibiting his face along that of Zazu, a red-billed hornbill in the Lion King animation.
What’s more, Oliver unusually assumed a somewhat stern tone on that episode going further to criticize Xi for abolishing term limits from the nation’s constitution, a crackdown on civil society, as well as the utilization of political re-education camps in Xinjiang, a Muslim province.
Finally, the comedian also took issue with the unrelenting house arrest of the late Nobel laureate and Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo’s wife, Liu Xia. Liu died last year while he was serving an 11-year imprisonment sentence.
According to Oliver, although China is not necessarily a free expression haven, the president (Xi) has prominently squashed any form of dissent.
Any censoring in China of the HBO website is unlikely to have any massive impact aside from what is already being experienced by Chinese citizens.
In this nation, access to the often salacious content has always been spotty with heavy censoring from Chinese broadcasters on shows such as ‘Game of Thrones.’ Most users in China watch HBO through Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).
Aside from designated spots like embassy residences and global hotel chains, the HBO channel in China is currently unavailable to the public through satellite or cable.
Nevertheless, the joke might be on Xi, since numerous Chinese users already use VPNs (impervious to censorship) to access their favorite HBO shows.