On May 2, one day before the World Press Freedom Day (which China doesn’t celebrate), the Chinese government issued a new set of rules on internet news : “Regulations on the Management of Internet News Services” and “Procedures for Enforcing Administrative Laws on Internet Information Management.” Obviously, the Chinese authorities are eager to control (at least on paper) information on internet.
The Regulations apply to all the internet news information providers operating within the territory of China. According to the Regulations, “news information” refers to “all the reports and comments on social, public, political, economic, military, and foreign affairs and unexpected emergent incidents. ”
All providers of internet news information should “adhere to the correct guidance of public opinion… promote a positive, healthy, forward and upbeat internet culture, national interests and public interest, and safeguard national and public interests,” according to the new rules.
To achieve this goal, the Regulations require all information providers — websites, applications, forums, blogs, microblogs, public accounts, instant messaging tools, webcasts, etc. — to register for licenses.
However, not every entity is qualified for registration. Six conditions should be satisfied before applying:
- The legal entity should be established in China’s territory.
- The main person in charge and the chief editor should be a Chinese citizen.
- (The service provider should) have full-time news editors, content censors, and technical security personnel.
- (The service provider should) have sound rules for internet news information service management.
- (The service provider should) have sound rules for information security management and safe and controllable technical safeguards.
- (The service provider should) have places, facilities, and funds to provide service.
In fact, these six conditions mean that internet news providers should only be established and managed by Chinese citizens, though some low-level foreign employees might still be hired. In case people don’t catch the intent, the Regulations explain it more explicitly: “No organization shall establish an internet news information service in the form of Sino-foreign joint venture, Sino-foreign partnership, or foreign-funded enterprises.”
If anyone thinks the Regulations are influenced by the current trend of conservatism and national protectionism, though, that’s not the full story. The ban on entering the internet news business applies not only to foreigners, but also to most Chinese: “Non-state capital shall not get involved in Internet news and information business.”
That is to say, the Chinese private sector cannot provide news, either. News and information should be provided only by the state.
Actually, the Chinese authorities have always adopted an “iron fist” policy on Chinese news and information. The rules on traditional news organizations such as newspapers, magazines, and TV stations are extremely strict and detailed, quite similar to the latest regulations on internet.
However, in the era of the internet and the accompanying information explosion, those old skills of censorship could not keep up with the new technology developments. Thus, Chinese President Xi Jinping called the market of public opinion a “battlefield” and demanded that Chinese state-run media “take the initiative of conquering the battlefield.”
As for those times when the “battlefield” can’t be conquered and unwanted information overflows, the Chinese authorities will always use the simplest way to handle it: block the offending website and remove the information.
Currently, countless websites are blocked in China. The newly issued rules is just another brick in the Great Firewall.