One of China’s premier investigative reporting outlets, Caixin, has been removed from the Cyberspace Administration of China’s (CAC) latest media “whitelist.” The whitelist governs how news is shared across the Chinese internet: news sites may only republish articles from outlets on the whitelist. Earlier in October, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) published a draft regulation barring non-public, i.e. private, capital from investing in news media—a rule that, if adopted, could potentially eliminate all non-state media outlets. These latest moves indicate an even more muscular approach to ensuring that the media is “surnamed Party,” in accordance with Xi’s 2016 mandate. At Reuters, Josh Horwitz and Brenda Goh reported on the CAC’s new whitelist of approved media outlets:
The list contains quadruple the number of outlets compared with an earlier version of the list from 2016, and includes more public and social media accounts, the CAC noted in its initial announcement.
The regulator added that internet news services that reprint news information must follow the latest version of the list. Outlets that do not abide by the rules will face punishment.
This month China’s state planner said it was halting the investment of “non-public” capital into a variety of publishing activities, including live broadcasts, news-gathering, editing and broadcasting entities and the operation of news. [Source]
The list was a dramatic revision of the 2016 list, which was scrapped and deleted from the CAC’s website. In accordance with Xi Jinping’s mandate to foster “positive energy” on the internet, the new list removed outlets that “no longer meet standards, perform poorly, and lack influence.” The often groundbreaking and widely-read Caixin surely did not fall under the latter two categories. The Economic Observer, a prominent independent publication, was also removed from the 2021 whitelist. Yet Caixin’s removal from the whitelist may not be all that damaging to the outlet. China Media Project’s David Bandurski told The Financial Times that “the goal is to ensure that the growing universe of digital media products is politically disciplined when it comes to sourcing news and discussion of current affairs,” but noted that Caixin has never relied on other outlets republishing its work for revenue.
Justin Tang, head of Asian research at United First Partners in Singapore, told Bloomberg News the message behind Caixin’s removal was simple: “No outlet is above the party.” There is some speculation that Caixin was removed due to behind-the-scenes political dueling between Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan, China’s Vice President. Hu Shuli, the pioneering founder of Caixin, posted an image of pig heads to Weibo. The post was captioned: “the sight of a pig’s head is not welcomed… Given its bad reputation, nobody wants to sit at the table with it to establish a strategic partnership.” Some believed Hu was using “pig’s head” as a veiled allusion to Xi Jinping. The post preceded the publication of the NDRC’s draft proposal to ban private capital from investing in the news industry, a measure that could prove far more disruptive to Caixin than being removed from the CAC’s whitelist. China Law Translate translated the NDRC’s sweeping draft rules, a section of which is excerpted here:
Non-public capital must not engage in news gathering, editing, and broadcasting operations
Non-public capital must not invest in the establishment or operation of news institutions, including but not limited to news agencies, newspaper publishers, radio and television broadcasters, radio and television stations, as well as internet news information gathering and publication service institutions, etc.
Non-public capital must not operate news institutions’ layouts, frequencies, channels, columns, public accounts, etc.
Non-public capital must not engage in live broadcast operations of politics, economics, military, and foreign affairs, or major activities or incidents in society, culture, technology, health, education, sports, and so forth that are related to political orientation, the orientation of public opinion, and values orientations.
Non-public capital must not introduce news released by foreign entities
Non-public capital must not host summits and award selection activities in the field of news and public opinion [Source]
If adopted, the rules will transform China’s media space. A 2020 scandal in which Weibo censored news of an Alibaba executive’s affair underscored the Party’s fear of private capital’s influence on media markets and public opinion. Alibaba was forced to divest portions of its media empire. The NDRC’s draft proposal would significantly expand existing limitations on non-public capital’s role in the media business issued by the Cyberspace Administration of China in 2017. According to Wang Sixin, a professor of law at the Communication University of China, private media is unfit to cover China. “You must be qualified to publish news, just like if you are not a doctor, then you cannot treat patients,” he told Global Times. At The Wall Street Journal, Liza Lin reported on the NDRC’s proposed rule change:
“Mr. Xi wants to create a new China, and as part of his creation, he’s making these moves,” said Fang Kecheng, an assistant professor of journalism at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. “The media plays a crucial part in this re-creation of society because of its role in shaping public opinion. He wants Chinese people to be thinking in a more uniform manner and subject to less influence from private capital.”
[…] Many of the restrictions described in Friday’s draft have existed in some form for years, according to media scholars, but China’s large internet companies have long operated in a legal gray area when it comes to online news content. While print and broadcast media are heavily regulated in China, internet companies such as Sina Corp. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. have produced news, financial and entertainment coverage and commentary with much less scrutiny, according to Zhan Jiang, a retired journalism professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University.
[…] “All of society has already realized that we have entered into a very different era from the past, and past experiences might not be suitable to assess current events,” [Fang Kecheng] wrote. [Source]
Outlets that could be affected:the liberal, pro-market Caixin magazine and the nationalist online outlet guancha. cn. As many pointed out on Chinese internet that it is ironic that China announced these rules to restrict media on the day that 2 journalists won the Nobel prize
— Li Yuan (@LiYuan6) October 8, 2021
1. The 2021 list is a very broad ban on everything relating to the news media sector, while the 2020 list does allow non-public capital participation, subject to equity caps. pic.twitter.com/s6DBHo83E3
— Henry Gao (@henrysgao) October 10, 2021
& "news and media sectors and live broadcast services of activities and events involving politics, economy, military, diplomacy, major society, culture, science and technology, health, education, sports, etc".
Now anyone still gonna tell me there's no change?
Keep the change.
— Henry Gao (@henrysgao) October 10, 2021
The CAC and NDRC’s moves are components of a Party-engineered “profound transformation” in Chinese society. Over 1,000 WeChat public accounts were deleted in October for unspecified violations. Prominent journalist Luo Changping was detained for defaming “heroes and martyrs” after criticizing a nationalist blockbuster celebrating the People’s Liberation Army’s role in the Korean War. The changes are nothing less than an ambitious effort to “make fools” of the Chinese people, wrote WeChat essayist 大鱼聊小事 in a since-censored essay:
It seems that the integrity of news is mostly unrelated to whether it is state-owned. The faker the news, the more likely it is to have come from venerable “big media”—no individual would dare to make up lies like that.
[…] The funny thing is, after this one platform published the news about this new draft resolution, many people went to the comments to say, “I support it.” These voices of support already violate article six, which mandates that “activities that direct public opinion or value perceptions” are prohibited. They can even delete the comments of support and ban their accounts. From now on, only unconditional support is allowed.
A consensus forged over the process of human development is: the most powerful monopoly is not over resources, manpower, territory, or products, but a monopoly over information, because it can make fools of people without them even realizing it. But actually daring to state that goal so blatantly is no small feat. [Chinese]