The Cyberspace Administration of China announced on Monday that Sina, Tencent, NetEase, and other commercial heavyweights on the Chinese internet have “seriously violated” regulations and will be fined for producing their own news content. A Beijing News report on the ban, which came from the Beijing office of the CAC, appeared in nearly identical form on the websites of the People’s Daily, Xinhua, the Paper, Phoenix News, and other outlets.
According to the Beijing News, the web portals have violated Article 16 of the Provisions for the Administration of Internet News Information Services, which stipulates that only news from official sources may be republished, with sources cited and without alterations. But these regulations were not strictly enforced, and web content companies ignored the rules to cover big stories. Bloomberg explains:
China’s online giants serve content, games and news to hundreds of millions of people across the country — Tencent’s QQ and WeChat alone host more than a billion users, combined. Online news services however have always operated in a regulatory gray area. They’re not authorized to provide original content and technically aren’t allowed to hire reporters or editors. Still, outlets have recently published investigative stories on official corruption cases, and covered sensitive social issues from demonstrations to human rights. For instance, NetEase ran a feature in April after the party announced an investigation into a senior Hebei provincial official, Zhang Yue. The story was later removed from the internet. [Source]
When the first press cards were issued to online reporters last year, granting them “the same reporting rights, responsibilities and obligations” as their counterparts in traditional media, commercial portals were excluded. The market for online content has nevertheless spurred these companies to expand their news teams. After the quelling of protests at the liberal paper Southern Weekly in 2013, journalists were also drawn to the portals for the chance to continue covering politically sensitive issues. The New York Times’ Michael Forsythe reports:
The profit-driven portals, several of which are listed on United States stock exchanges, have in recent years expanded their investigative teams to increase readership among China’s more than 600 million internet users by scooping the staid state-owned news media on stories about subjects including industrial pollution, tainted milk powder and even police brutality.
[…] It is unclear whether the regulation will end all original reporting at the websites, where hundreds of millions of Chinese turn for their news. Monday’s announcement mentioned specific features at four internet sites, which in recent years have attracted investigative reporters from newspapers such as Southern Weekend. It was among the first news organizations to face restrictions after Mr. Xi became head of the Communist Party in November 2012.
Wen Tao, who until last year was a reporter for “Serious Reporting” at Phoenix, one of the news features shut down by the new edict, said by telephone that in recent years the news portals had played a cat-and-mouse game with government internet censors, pushing the boundaries of censorship by publishing material without submitting it for approval and waiting to see if it was taken down by the authorities. [Source]
The CAC’s statement follows the self-shuttering of reformist journal Yanhuang Chunqiu after its editorial staff were replaced by the Chinese National Academy of Arts. The Xi administration has been steadily reining in the media. When President Xi Jinping visited CCTV headquarters in February, he emphasized that the media “bears the Party surname.”