New Media Rules and the Prospects for Reform

New regulations recently announced by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television forbid Chinese journalists from using content from in their reports without authorization. The new guidelines also put limitations on the use of social media by journalists and restrict websites from publishing reports by journalists who do not possess press cards. Caijing and the South China Morning Post have both written about the new guidelines, and A Big Enough Forest blog translated the Xinhua article announcing them in full.

As Tea Leaf Nation writes, however, these new regulations have not yet had a significant impact on the daily work of the Chinese media, as two major recent stories demonstrate:

[..T]he rule was only two days old when it was ostensibly broken by hundreds of journalists and media outlets. When Ta Kung Pao, a Hong Kong paper closely affiliated with the Chinese government, published (and then retracted) a story about Xi Jinping taking a taxi ride in Beijing, it quick went viral and almost everyone in the journalist community on retweeted or commented on the story.

User @老辣陈香 asked, “What direction does the wind blow? Right after SARFT announced the strengthening of regulations on news editorial online activities, Ta Kung Pao broke the news that Xi Jinping had taken a ride in a taxi cab, and then domestic media were all reposting the news. In a word, the rule was brazenly violated – SARFT, what are you gonna do?”

[…] Two days later, a 7.0-point earthquake hit Sichuan province, immediately gathering full attention of the country’s media outlets. A picture of some journalists resting in a pigsty in the disaster zone was widely circulated in social media, with commentators praising their dedication to the profession. It soon emerged that the journalists in the photo were from Tencent.com, one of the major Internet portals in China, and thus lacked proper authorization to conduct journalistic endeavors. Sun Hai (@孙海) pointed out in his microblog: “Tencent news is covering earthquake with original reporting … The ‘journalist permit’ now exists in name only.” At least 10 reporters from Tencent were sent to cover the earthquake, according to Tencent’s feature page which carried the words, “we are on the front line.”

While the tenacity and determination of China’s journalists may weaken the effectiveness of these regulations, the fact that they are being implemented now shows the limitations of prospects for reform under Xi Jinping, according to Sinostand:

So what’s the deal? Are these new leaders reformers or not? Obviously, it’s complicated, but you can make a pretty good prediction on the likelihood of a given reform just by establishing whether it threatens the Party’s absolute control over who educates the public, who holds any kind of political power, and which way the guns would face in the event of an uprising (AKA – Propaganda, Personnel, People’s Liberation Army).

[…] In some ways it may seem like the new government is more amenable to opening up the press. Xi has vowed to go after both “the tigers and the flies” (top leaders and low officials who are corrupt) and hinted that this involves more freedom for the press and the online public. But there will always be a cage over the press. If that cage gets bigger (and there’s been no meaningful indication that it actually will), it will be carefully designed to let reporters roam only in areas that serve the Party’s self-preserving interests. These new directives suggest that that the vetting process for those even allowed to roam in that cage is getting stricter.

So this is what we’ll need to get used to. Virtually everything outside the Three Ps is eligible for reform, and that’s good news. There’s still a lot of room for making China a better place within those confines. But the Three Ps will absolutely remain under complete Party control, barring some massive national movement that presents a crisis even greater than Tiananmen.