Tom Phillips - China seeks to eradicate 'vile effect' of independent journalism

Top Chinese internet portals had been forbidden from producing original reporting on politically sensitive topics in what experts say is the latest step in President Xi Jinping’s battle to bring Chinese journalism under control. Internet giants including Netease, Sina and Sohu were ordered to pull the plug on their current affairs operations on Monday, the Cyberspace Administration ofChina (CAC), Beijing’s internet watchdog announced.

Such independent journalism had “seriously violated regulations and had a completely vile effect,” the watchdog’s Beijing operation said, according to Reuters. Citing a CAC official, the Global Times, a Beijing-controlled tabloid, said online portals were permitted to publish stories on “social and political issues” only if they had been sourced from government-controlled news agencies. Law enforcement against such websites would be “enhanced”, the official warned.

The move was widely interpreted as the latest step in the Communist party’s bid to bring China’s already tightly controlled media to heel. It comes just over five months after Xi made a high-profile tour of state media outlets in Beijing, demanding “absolute loyalty” from their journalists and instructing them to serve as “disseminators of the Party’s policies and propositions”.

Qiao Mu, a journalism professor from Beijing’s Foreign Languages University, said online portals had long been barred from publishing original news stories about politically sensitives subjects. 
Previously, however, the enforcement of such regulations has been patchy. Qiao noted that moves to enforce the rules on current affairs reporting came just weeks after the head of China’s internet regulator, Lu Wei, was unexpectedly removed from his post. He was replaced as the country’s censor-in-chief by Xu Lin, who worked alongside Xi when he was the Communist party chief in Shanghai, almost a decade ago.

“The new boss just took office and has to do something new,” Qiao said. Qiao said he also believed recent news events in China – including deadly floodingand an international tribunal’s rejection of Chinese claims in the South China Sea– meant Beijing was nervous about losing control of the media narrative. “This has not been a quiet summer … authorities are worried that [such] reporting might have an effect on social stability,” he said.

Wen Tao, a Chinese journalist who worked for one of the current affairs services that has been closed down, told the New York Times censors would find it hard to completely control the production of news. “The flow of information cannot be stopped – it’s like a flood,” he said. Qiao, the journalism professor, said he expected further moves from the Communist party as it fought to rein in the media.
“This is just getting started. There will be more to come,” he predicted.

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