The Chinese authorities’ hash clampdown on the internet and free flow of information never died down after the “Two Sessions” in March. Recently, several of China’s top news apps fell victim to the government’s iron fist.
On April 9, Chinese netizens suddenly found that four most popular Chinese news apps — Jinri Toutiao, Phoenix News, NetEase News, and Tiantian News — were temporarily banned from being downloaded from various app stores “under the order of related authorities.”
Since no Chinese “related authority” came forward to the public to explain the ban, Chinese media had to verify the information instead. According to news reports, Jinri Toutiao will be suspended for three weeks, Phoenix News two weeks, NetEase News one week, and Tiantian News three days.
It’s worth keeping in mind that Phoenix News, NetEase News, and Tiantian News are either directly controlled or heavily invested in by China’s top internet companies — Phoenix New Media, NetEase, and Tencent recpectively. And all the three internet companies have gone public either in Hong Kong or in the United States.
As for Jinri Toutiao, though it still hasn’t gone public, the app has reportedly a daily user base of 120 million people and a current valuation of over $20 billion. As one of the fastest growing media startups not only in China but the world, the app not only distributes news content produced by professional media across the country, but allows average users to freely post content, including pictures and video clips, on its platform.
Days ahead of the ban, Jinri Toutiao was singled out and harshly reprimanded by the State Administration of Radio and Television (SAPPRFT) on April 4 for “broadcasting programs opposed to social morality” and “operating without having the relevant permits for online broadcasting.” The SAPPRFT also demanded the company to conduct a complete cleanup of all its online content.
While Jinri Toutiao was still processing the successive blows, another, even harder punch came on April 10.
The SAPPRFT unexpectedly ordered Jinri Toutiao to “permanently close down” its affiliated jokes app, Neihan Duanzi, for vulgar content and incorrect ideology.
The government’s three hash blows in such a short period finally brought Jinri Toutiao to its knees.
On April 11, Zhang Yiming, founder and CEO of Jinri Toutiao, released a lengthy apology letter.
Notably, Zhang repeatedly apologized to the related authority for “failing to uphold the socialist core values and the correct ideology” in his letter.
Then he vowed to “instill correct values into his products” and “clean up the users’ community” by launching a series of measures, including strengthening the Party-building within the company, posting more state media content, recruiting a total of 10,000 employees to focus on content censorship, and permanently deleting those accounts that violate socialist core values.
It’s still unclear whether Zhang’s self-criticizing apology will gain Jinri Toutiao forgiveness from the “related authorities,” but it is for sure that Jinri Toutiao is not the first to met with the iron fist of China’s internet control. And it won’t be the last.