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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

In less than 48 hours, three American companies in the business of mass entertainment have found themselves at the center of a political storm about China's aggressive censorship.

Why it matters: Media and entertainment have long acted as extensions of free speech with a mass reach, making them both vehicles for public expressions of controversial views and targets of government censorship.

Driving the news: Most visibly in the press, the National Basketball Association is currently facing the wrath of the Chinese government after a team's general manager expressed support for Hong Kong protesters and the league has refused to denounce him. But there's more:

It's no surprise that Hollywood is treading carefully around the Chinese government given its large market's importance to Hollywood.

  • Upsetting the Chinese government can impact U.S. film exports. China has blocked or delayed films in the past. Most recently, it delayed the release of "Crazy Rich Asians," which cut into revenues for Warner Bros. 

In contrast: American companies have a history of bending to China's requests in the name of preserving their access to its market — but these usually related to censorship for Chinese customers, or other less visible requests.

The big picture: This is all happening against the backdrop of an ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China.

What's next: Some are calling for U.S. regulators to reconsider TikTok parent company Bytedance's acquisition of Musical.ly, the American short-video app it acquired in 2017 from growing fears it will censor American users in accordance with its political speech preferences.

Go deeper

3 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Anthony Coley to lead Justice Department public affairs

The U.S. Department of Justice building in Washington, D.C. Photo: Xinhua/Ting Shen via Getty Images

Judge Merrick Garland, President Biden’s nominee for attorney general, has tapped Anthony Coley, an Obama-era Treasury Department official, to serve as a senior adviser and lead public affairs at the Department of Justice, according to people familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: As the public face of the DOJ, Coley will help explain — and defend — the department's actions, from sensitive cases to prosecutorial decisions, including the investigation into Hunter Biden.

AP: Justice Dept. rescinds "zero tolerance" policy

A young girl waves to onlookers through the fence at the US-Mexico border wall at Friendship Park in San Ysidro, California in Nov. 2018. Photo: Sandy Huffaker/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden's acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson issued a memo on Tuesday to revoke the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy, which separated thousands of migrant children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border, AP first reported.

Driving the news: A recent report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz emphasized the internal chaos at the agency over the implementation of the policy, which resulted in 545 parents separated from their children as of October 2020.

Biden picks up his pen to change the tone on racial equity

Vice President Harris looks on as President Biden signs executive orders related to his racial equity agenda. Photo: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

President Biden is making a down payment on racial equity in a series of executive orders dealing with everything from private prisons to housing discrimination, treatment of Asian Americans and relations with indigenous tribes.

The big picture: Police reform and voting rights legislation will take time to pass in Congress. But with the stroke of his pen, one week into the job, Biden is taking steps within his power as he seeks to change the tone on racial justice from the Trump administration.