Foreign Media Face New Rules; State Media Echo Xi

On February 15, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television () and the publicized new regulations that as of March 10 could prevent foreign-funded companies from publishing a wide range of online content without a domestic partner and explicit government approval. While not an outright ban, the move could effectively complicate the publication process for foreign firms looking to make any type of content available online in China. At Fortune, Scott Cendrowski reports:

Analysts noted the new rules were a continuation of the regulatory pressures faced by foreign media, but likely do not mean a whole new clampdown.

“Foreign media have never been able to operate freely in China, so in some ways there is nothing new here,” says Jeremy Goldkorn, director of Danwei, a research firm tracking Chinese media. The New York Times’s Chinese-language site, for instance, has been blocked ever since the paper ran articles about leaders’ wealth. That paper pointed out today that global news companies including the New York Times publish on servers outside China, “and are unlikely to be affected by the new rules.”

Goldkorn says the rules, rather than suddenly blocking any foreign content in China, “probably means that foreign media and Internet companies are going to come under even greater scrutiny and pressure.”

Analysts said it is a matter of how Chinese authorities implement the new law that will determine how restrictive it is. Beijing in the past has put forth sweeping regulations but selectively enforced them. The latest could affect almost anything that’s published online in China, but it’s unclear where China will focus its efforts. [Source]

The Wall Street Journal’s Josh Chin similarly reports that these new rules are more consolidation than innovation:

Many of the restrictions outlined in the new regulations, including the limits on , already exist in one form or another, according to analysts. But gathering them together in a single regulatory scheme allows Beijing to cite a legal justification for its intensifying drive to fortify Chinese society, particularly the Internet, against what the authoritarian government sees as unwanted foreign influences, they said.

In the past year, Chinese authorities have drawn up regulations and adopted a law that foreign business groups have said could be used to restrict foreign investment in telecommunications and other sectors of the economy and force multinationals to turn over proprietary technology. Regulations adopted last year require technology companies to store data on servers located inside the country.

“China wants to make sure that everything is localized, one as a defense against foreign interference, and two to have jurisdiction to be able to go to these servers and control them if necessary,” said Rogier Creemers, an Oxford University scholar who studies Chinese media policy.

[…] “This is about saying, ’We are going to have boundaries in cyberspace, we are going to delineate our territory on the Internet and we are going to regulate it however we see fit,” he said. [Source]

English translations of the regulations, available from China Copyright and Media blog and the China Law Translate project, show just how broadly the new rules could be applied. The New York Times’ David Barboza and Paul Mozur have more on how this new set of rules fits in to two ongoing political trends overseen by the Xi Jinping administration: consolidating control over the Internet and new media technology, and restricting the spread of “Western values” in Chinese society.

Legal scholars say the new rules seem aimed at restricting any type of content that might be considered a threat to the Communist Party, or social stability, with the regulations hinting at a greater effort to bring anything published by foreign entities under Chinese law.

“This is the latest in a series of legal changes that seek to restrict the influence of foreign or western ideas,” said Jacques deLisle, an authority on Chinese law who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. “And it’s also part of a larger attempt to exercise control over the Internet and new media.”

[…] The regulations stipulate that anything published online should “serve the people” and promote socialism and do no harm to national interests, barring, for instance, the spreading of rumors or propagating evil cults. [Source]

The emphasis on shepherding online information to “serve the people and serve socialism [article 3],” highlights ’s continued emphasis on the long-held official view of the media as the “throat and tongue” of the Party. Amid a steady tightening of information controls under Xi, the president himself last week visited leading state-run media outlets to highlight their role in “serving the Party,” encouraging them to increase efforts at doing so both domestically and internationally. Following Xi’s tour, outlets released a wave of commentary in agreement with Xi’s message on the need for wide dissemination of official opinion. The South China Morning Post’s rounds up state-run commentary:

Having public opinions that are different from the official ones will shake the foundation of the rule of the Communist party and the country, according to a commentary published by a leading mouthpiece online.

Xiakedao, a social media account operated by the overseas edition of People’s Daily, said in a commentary on Friday’s high-profile tour by President Xi Jinping (習近平) to the three largest state media outlets – People’s Daily, Xinhua and Central China Television — that the party was alarmed by how different public opinion is from official media.

There are two spheres for opinions — official and unofficial media. The latter refers to social media or means of communications not controlled by the party.

[…] A separate commentary by Xinhua yesterday said that controlling public opinion was essential for a a ruling party: “With one hand we grab the guns; with the other we grab the pens,” it said. “Mobilising public opinion is the great tradition of our party.” [Source]

The Global Times also did its part to amplify President Xi’s call to state media, and warned against “Western news values”:

The Party regulates the media. The Party-ruled and State-owned media must follow the Party line. This is determined by the country’s basic political systems. This principle is the lifeline of the Chinese press. Media staff should bear in mind this principle and comprehend Chinese President Xi Jinping‘s speech on media policy during his State media tour on Friday.

Media all over the world faces the fundamental problem of “working for whom, depending on whom and who we are.” But the ideological confrontation between the West and China hides the universality of this issue.

A misunderstanding is created that the problem only exists in China but Western media remains the guardian of news objectivity that is beyond political influence.

Western news values have made some certain impact on Chinese society and the worship of media “independence” has gained popularity in China. As a result, practicing the Party principle of journalistic work faces a complicated situation.

In a globalized and Internet era that calls for openness, China cannot build up its press and public opinion with its own characteristics in a closed environment. It can only construct its core values amid the active flow of thoughts. It not only needs loyalty but also the ability to manage and use the rules of journalism. [Source]

An analysis of People’s Daily’s coverage of Xi’s state media address by China Media Project’s David Bandurski also broadly outlines Xi’s media policy as a “map for all-dimensional Party control” of domestic and international public opinion:

The February 20, 2016, edition of the People’s Daily — essentially a bold red birth announcement for Xi Jinping’s fully-developed media policy — tells us even more: What kind of reflection China’s leaders hope to see of themselves in the great mirror of domestic and international public opinion.

Xi Jinping’s media policy, which we might call “Control 3.0,” is a map for all-dimensional control (全方位控制) — that’s our term, not the Party’s — involving Party domination of the message as reflected in both domestic and international public opinion, across all imaginable media platforms (including advertising and entertainment).

News Friday that President Xi was paying visits to Xinhua News Agency, the People’s Daily and China Central Television was the first sign that announcement of a new or refined media policy was imminent. It was during a visit to People’s Daily in June 2008, more than five years into his administration, that Xi Jinping’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, articulated his full-fledged media policy. […] [Source]

As state media was heeding Xi’s call, outspoken real estate mogul Ren Zhiqiang took to Weibo to disagree, opining that state media should serve its funders—the Chinese public. Following Xi’s lead, state media countered. The South China Morning Post’s Li Jing reports:

, who stepped down from his Hua Yuan Property company in 2014, said on Weibo shortly after Xi toured Xinhua, People’s Daily and CCTV on Friday that the media should serve the people. Ren stressed that the news outfits were funded by taxpayers’ money, and so should serve the public, rather than the leadership.

On Monday morning, a news site affiliated with the Beijing municipal party committee said Ren was spreading “anti-Communist Party” thought.

Ren represented capitalism that sought to topple the party’s rule and establish Western-style constitutionalism on the mainland, said the commentator on Qianlong.com.

[…] Ren addressed the president’s speech in two posts on his Weibo account. “When does the people’s government turn into the party’s government? [Are the media] funded by party membership dues? Don’t waste taxpayers’ money on things that do not provide them with services.”

He also wrote: “Are there two opposite camps now? When all media have surnames and do not represent public interests, the people will be forgotten and abandoned!”

The posts have since been deleted. [Source]

This is not the first time that Ren, a reliably outspoken social media voice, has found himself in conflict with state media online.

At The New York Times, Edward Wong situates Xi’s state media tour into broader administrative efforts to reinforce control over the media, noting that some analysts see this as a symptom of greater political insecurity:

Mr. Xi’s policy has been building piecemeal. In 2013, the government began requiring all Chinese journalists to take a test in order to get their press cards renewed, with the aim, among other things, of getting news gatherers to “uphold the Marxist journalistic ideals more consciously.” [See prior CDT coverage of Marxist education for journalists.]

That year, China’s top legal bodies said the criminal charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” could apply to online speech. Since then, the authorities have used it as a cudgel to silence dissent on the Internet.

In several prominent cases, officials have persecuted journalists for everything from sharing information with foreigners to “spreading rumors”related to the stock markets and the economy.

Chinese news organizations, including formerly adventurous and commercially driven ones like Southern Weekly, are toeing the line. People’s Daily has become a celebrity publicity machine for Mr. Xi . On one day in December, his name appeared in 11 of the 12 headlines on the front page.

Some political analysts note that Mr. Xi’s attempts to impose total control over the media say as much about his personal insecurities and as they do about any Marxist-Leninist ideological vision that he holds.

“The most important thing is for him to announce his absolute authority,” said Zhang Lifan, a historian. “He doesn’t feel effective and confident in dealing with problems, and he lacks a sense of security.” […] [Source]

As the reins have tightened over the media landscape in recent years, some young journalists have reportedly abandoned careers in the industry. A recent article by The Guardian’s Tom Phillips cited one former editor who pointed to the lack of journalistic freedom amid increased as the source of his growing disillusionment with his career. The Global Times has directly lambasted Phillips, offering an array of other motivations that may drive young Chinese away from journalism:

Contrary to Philips’ assertion that Chinese journalists are resigning en-masse, they are in fact being laid off en-masse as media agencies around the country fold. But far from the “Being a journalist has no meaning any more” despondency that Philips attempts to illustrate in his melodramatic article, what is in fact happening is that legions of veteran and amateur reporters alike are turning to digital platforms. Traditional media outlets have also diverted more resources into new media. The trend does not take place in China alone.

Another reason that former and aspiring journalists in China are abandoning reportage is the rising cost of living in big cities, where most major news agencies are based. Being a “poor, starving writer” is an age-old truism that journalists, poets and authors around the world have all experienced at some point, but here in Shanghai, which ranks even higher than New York as one of the world’s most-expensive cities, idealism sometimes can give way to quick money and comfort.

I recall a journalism class at a local university that had invited me to speak. When I asked how many students intended to work for news media after graduation, less than 20 percent said yes. Despite their obvious talent as writers, most said that they instead would be applying for better-paying jobs at a PR firm, of which Shanghai has no shortage of.

At the time I pitied them for being so greedy and shortsighted, but today many of those students are earning very comfortable salaries and rubbing shoulders with important players in various industries. The fact that more journalists are now leaving the media industry is more related to pay than to politics. [Source]