Phan­tom screen­ings: The show mustn’t go on!

China Daily (Canada) - - BUSINESS - By AB­DUL LATHEEF

It’s been a tough fewweeks for some of China’s cor­po­rate rep­u­ta­tion man­agers.

First, there was the box of­fice fraud, then the stock ex­change delist­ing over cooked books and fi­nally, scan­dals in­volv­ing spu­ri­ous vac­cines and fake baby for­mula.

The story that at­tracted the most global at­ten­tion, though, was the phan­tom screen­ings of the mar­tial arts flick, IpMan 3, star­ring Don­nie Yen andMike Tyson. The movie is about the life of leg­endary Wing Chun master YipMan.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors said last month that the film’s main dis­trib­u­tor bought 56 mil­lion yuan ($8.65 mil­lion) worth of the tick­ets it­self to bol­ster box of­fice num­bers. In ad­di­tion, Bei­jingMax Screen, also known as Day­inmu Film Dis­tri­bu­tion, ad­mit­ted fab­ri­cat­ing more than 7,600 screen­ings that it claimed gen­er­ated mil­lions of yuan more.

The govern­ment’s movie reg­u­la­tor, the State Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Press, Pub­li­ca­tion, Ra­dio, Film and Tele­vi­sion, re­acted with a onemonth ban on Bei­jingMax Screen’s oper­a­tions.

That is de­spite a pledge by the reg­u­la­tor last year to im­pose stricter mea­sures in crack­ing down on box of­fice fraud.

To get a per­spec­tive on how th­ese scan­dals might af­fect the global im­age of Chi­nese in­dus­tries, I reached out to a fewin­ter­na­tional ex­perts in the field.

“Th­ese scan­dals have a deep and last­ing ef­fect,” said Cleo Paskal, a vis­it­ing Trudeau fel­low at the Univer­site deMon­treal’s Cen­ter for In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies and Re­search.

Other ex­perts agree that tougher ac­tions are needed to stamp out fraud.

The film watch­dog “should demon­strate that it doesn’t tol­er­ate fraud at the box of­fice or any in­sti­tu­tion and be clear about the penal­ties for peo­ple who con­tra­vene that”, saidMart­inWax­man, pres­i­dent ofMart­inWax­man Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, a Toronto-based firm that ad­vises clients on rep­u­ta­tion man­age­ment.

But the IpMan 3 in­ci­dent was hardly iso­lated.

There were also sug­ges­tions of fraud last year when dis­trib­u­tors re­ported mind-bog­gling box of­fice num­bers for the war epic TheHun­dred Reg­i­ments Of­fen­sive and the 3-D fan­ta­syMon­sterHunt.

StephenHahn-Grif­fiths, one of the di­rec­tors of the Rep­u­ta­tion In­sti­tute, a lead­ing global re­search and ad­vi­sory firm based in Bos­ton, stressed the need for trans­parency.

“The Chi­nese movie es­tab­lish­ment, in­clud­ing all of its con­stituents, from con­tent cre­ators, the stu­dios, dis­trib­u­tors, to movie the­aters, needs to show that it is lead­ing the way in coun­ter­ing any form of ma­nip­u­la­tion, or wrong­do­ing,” Hahn-Grif­fiths said.

As the box of­fice scan­dal un­folded in Bei­jing, au­thor­i­ties in Shang­hai were deal­ing with an­other kind of fraud.

An­in­vest­ment firm, Zhuhai Boyuan In­vest­ment Co Ltd, was ac­cused of forg­ing com­mer­cial bills as well as in­flat­ing as­sets and prof­its to boost its share price at the Shang­hai Stock Ex­change. TheChina Se­cu­ri­ties Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion acted swiftly and delisted the firm, the first com­pany to be re­moved from the bourse due to il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties.

In eject­ing Zhuhai Boyuan from the stock mar­ket, the CSRC showed lead­er­ship and re­solve to crack down on fi­nan­cial crime.

Back in the cap­i­tal, busi­ness is usual for Bei­jingMax Screen, barely a month af­ter its oper­a­tions were sus­pended.

Paskal, who is also the author of the award-win­ning book Global War­ring: How En­vi­ron­men­tal, Eco­nomic and Po­lit­i­cal Cris­esWill Re­draw theWorldMap, feels that if proper ac­tion is not taken the mar­ket share for Chi­nese in­no­va­tions and prod­ucts will be un­der­mined.

“A dol­lar gained by cor­rup­tion to­day can lose you 10 to­mor­row.”

The sixth Bei­jing In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val is now un­der­way in the city. It’s a good time to show the country’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to the world that it is se­ri­ous about fix­ing fraud prob­lems in the film in­dus­try.

Such tough­ness is re­quired to re­store busi­ness con­fi­dence, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing China’s sta­tus as the world’s sec­ond-largest econ­omy.

For Bei­jingMax Screen, the show mustn’t go on!

Con­tact the writer at ab­dul @chi­

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