Beijing 'seeking to control video-streaming websites'

Experts note plans to get state-owned firms to buy 'special management stakes' in sites

BEIJING • The Chinese authorities are exploring new ways of imposing controls on the Internet, state-run media cited experts as saying, after reports said state- owned enterprises (SOEs) may be encouraged to take stakes in video streaming websites.

New regulations being considered by China's censorship authority would allow a select list of SOEs to buy "special management stakes" of up to 10 per cent in the country's popular video streaming websites, giving them the right to oversee production and decision-making, respected business magazine Caixin reported.

The Chinese-language report was later removed from Caixin's own website, although the text was widely reposted elsewhere.

Video sites such as Youku Tudou, acquired last year by tech giant Alibaba for an estimated US$4.8 billion (S$6.6 billion), and Baidu's iQiyi.com could be affected, with greater scrutiny over content and potential modifications to in-house productions.

The move shows that the government hopes to tighten its grip on websites - mostly privately run - over which they have had "little influence" in the past, the state-run Global Times newspaper yesterday cited Mr Xiang Ligang, CEO of telecommunication industry portal cctime.com, as saying.

"The government cannot punish (the websites) on a daily basis or shut down (a website) at will as it would trigger a backlash," he explained.

The paper cited communications law professor Zhu Wei as saying that the new mechanism would be a preventive measure capable of blocking objectionable content before it was even released, unlike current regulations which punish perpetrators only after the fact.

The initial list of SOEs to take part in the venture include state broadcasters China National Radio and China Radio International, among others, the Global Times added.

Officials from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) met video-website executives last week to discuss the plan, and suggested non-binding agreements between them and the SOEs as soon as June 10, Bloomberg News reported.

Some websites present at the meeting objected to the plan, but it remained unclear what the consequences of non-participation might be, it added.

"The SAPPRFT is currently consulting various parties, trying to learn if each party is interested in joining the plan, the percentage of shares involved, how to evaluate such equity stakes and other details. There is no final plan yet," the Caixin report quoted a source as saying.

The Chinese government recently banned the portrayal of "seductive" consumption of bananas on live-streaming websites as part of its efforts to clamp down on "inappropriate and erotic" online content, the Global Times reported.

China restricts access to foreign websites, including Google, Facebook and Twitter, with a vast control network dubbed the Great Firewall of China, and under President Xi Jinping it has tightened its grip on broadcast, print and online media.

Content deemed politically sensitive, violent or morally "unhealthy" is regularly blocked.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2016, with the headline 'Beijing 'seeking to control video-streaming websites''. Print Edition | Subscribe