China Power

China’s News Websites Face Harsh Discipline

China forbids all non-government websites from publishing independent news content.

China’s News Websites Face Harsh Discipline
Credit: Flickr/bfishadow

Chinese netizens will soon have nothing but government-allowed content to read and watch, and that’s not an exaggeration.

The Chinese government is conducting the most serious crackdown so far on China’s five biggest non-government news sites — Sina, NetEase, Ifeng, Tencent, and Sohu. The five internet giants practically dominate the whole non-government online news market in China. Nearly every netizen will log onto at least one of these five news sites to start their everyday news-reading. And this might also be the reason that the five are being disciplined now.

Earlier, in 2008, the Chinese government had issued “Regulations on Internet Audio and Visual Program Services,” forbidding any internet companies from providing news contents without licences.

Yet with the information technology boom, more and more internet programs containing news content appeared anyway, and the Chinese authorities didn’t show absolute determination in following the regulation to the letter.

However,  the Chinese authorities have been getting serious recently.

In May this year,  a new set of rules — “Regulations on the Management of Internet News Services and “Procedures for Enforcing Administrative Laws on Internet Information Management— were issued. Together with the 2008 Regulations on Internet Audio and Visual Program Services, the control on internet companies has never been harsher (at least on paper).

Meanwhile, the Chinese authorities are starting to enforce the regulations strictly. First, all the five big internet companies were put under one unified supervisor, the Beijing Internet Information Office, so no company could avoid unified management. Second, the Beijing Internet Information Office ordered all five companies to immediately shut down unlicensed news programs. Those companies who disobeyed would face punishment: Tencent’s applications for other, more profitable non-news programs have been suspended.

The authorities claimed that the internet news programs were shut down because the internet companies had no licences, but in fact, these companies would never have been able to acquire any licences. According to the Regulations mentioned above, “Non-state capital shall not get involved in the internet news and information business,” meaning that non-governmental companies are not allowed to provide news content in the first place.