China’s Latest Website Rules Shows Beijing is ‘Re-Centralizing News’

China’s Latest Website Rules Shows Beijing is ‘Re-Centralizing News’
Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像
What you need to know

China’s move to tighten control of online news portals is just the latest effort by Beijing to assert party dominance over original news and other content.

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In a bid to keep all online news reports in line with messaging approved by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Beijing has established new rules to beef-up monitoring of online news portals, reports are saying.

The measures include ensuring website staff monitor sites at all times to make sure there are no rule breaches, and making editors-in-chief at online news sites responsible for all content, South China Morning Post reports.

“This most recent move against Internet portals is just the latest effort to assert Party dominance over original news and other content,” David Bandurski, of the University of Hong Kong's China Media Project, told The News Lens International.

The latest measures, issued by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), follows an edict from the regulator last month prohibiting news websites from basing their stories on information collected from social media. And in June, the CAC said it was ramping-up efforts to purge comments by China’s nearly 700 million Internet users in order to eliminate "unhealthy information" and promote “helpful and well-intentioned” messages.

A recent CAC crackdown on online news reporting targeted some of China’s most popular Internet giants – including Sina, NetEase, Sohu, Tencent, and Phoenix, University of Sussex journalism lecturer Sally Xiaojin Chen said in a recent article.

“While China is used to tight controls on the Internet and the media, this was nonetheless a remarkably aggressive move. And it speaks of a renewed zeal for an all-encompassing control of information,” Chen said.

Orders from the top

China has been actively supervising and regulating online speech for nearly two decades.

Bandurski notes that "since the violent crackdown on demonstrators in Beijing and other cities in 1989,” the CCP has never formally loosened media controls. But Chinese media have, at times, "pushed the boundaries and challenged the government agenda."

As Chen says, “Major news portals have been able to establish journalistic and editorial teams to carry out investigations and report on popular news topics such as air pollution, the milk safety scandal, police brutality, and even local officials’ corruption.”

She also points to the liberal publications Yanhuang Chunqiu and Southern Weekly as "precious exceptions" to the restrictions on press freedoms, until 2013.

Under President Xi Jinping (習近平), who took power in late 2012, Beijing has been wresting control of online media, making it another party mouthpiece.

In a key media policy speech this February, Xi stressed that all media must be "surnamed Party," Bandurski says.

“In other words [Xi said] that they must be disciplined in keeping to the ideas and messages of the leadership,” he says. “Xi was very clear that this 'Party nature' of the media extended to internet sites and social media.”

Bandurski believes the latest CAC actions can be “read” as acting on that mandate from Xi.

“Xi Jinping wants media development and ostensible diversity under renewed and unchallenged Party authority,” he says. “He wants social media without networked social action that challenges the Party. He wants news without unwelcome surprises.”

Bandurski says the CCP leadership believes the way to achieve these goals is to “re-centralize authority over content production, and especially over news production.”

The Reporters Without Borders 2016 World Press Freedom Index ranked China 176 out of 180 countries, ahead of Syria, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole