China Tightens Grip on Online News, Blogs, Mobile Apps

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By Mark Melnicoe

China’s latest restrictions on online news and commentary will extend to blogs, online forums, mobile apps, instant messaging tools and other forms of digital media under rules published May 2 by the Cyberspace Administration of China.

The Internet News Information Service Management Regulations will take effect June 1, further tightening the central government’s grip on the free flow of information under President Xi Jinping.

The new rules are the latest in a series issued by Chinese internet and information ministries that impose restrictions on who can post information online. They will cover new media, including popular social platforms like WeChat and qq, mobile apps as well as the emerging online live broadcasting, Zhenyu Ruan, a partner at the Baker McKenzie law firm in Shanghai, told Bloomberg BNA May 3.

“Basically, CAC is replicating and applying the same requirements for traditional news publishers to providers of internet news information services,” he said.

The rules require online publishers to obtain government licenses before being allowed to produce news or commentary. They also require editors to be Chinese citizens and receive approval from relevant government authorities, while staffers undergo governmental training and screening.

Online publishers’ editing and business operations must be separate, and no private funding of new online media enterprises will be allowed under the rules.

Authorities Seek to Control Public Opinion

The rationale for the measures is that China is “experiencing a transitional period which is very important for the authorities,” Robert Beng, a communications professor at Shanghai’s Fudan University, told Bloomberg BNA May 3.

“China is restructuring its economy in response to U.S. market demands and, politically, the country is convening at the 19th Party Congress very soon,” Beng said. “It’s a custom before such an important Congress convenes to make society stable and public opinion friendly.”

The Party Congress is set for the fall, when some new leaders will be chosen, although Xi is virtually certain to stay for another five-year term.

“This media pressure is likely to be stepped up further in the run-up to the Party Congress later this year,” Jonathan Fenby, chairman of China research at London-based TS Lombard, told Bloomberg BNA.

Unblocked Sites Likely to Remain Available

China was ranked 176th out of 180 countries in the international nonprofit Reporters Without Borders’ 2017 World Press Freedom Index. The country’s “Great Firewall” blocks many foreign websites, including news from the New York Times and Bloomberg. But many other news sources from the West, such as the BBC and CNN, generally aren’t blocked.

“The new rules alone will not have a direct impact on news sites and apps of foreign media that are currently not blocked by the Chinese government,” Ruan told Bloomberg BNA.

But he said that under the pending Cybersecurity Law, “CAC and other Chinese authorities would be able to block and take actions with respect to any foreign sites and apps that are considered to publish or disseminate information and contents that are found illegal under Chinese law.”

“The actual impact will depend on the implementation,” Fenby said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Melnicoe in Shanghai, at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com

For More Information

The Internet News Information Service Management Regulations can be found in Chinese at http://www.cac.gov.cn/2017-05/02/c_1120902760.htm

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