China to further tighten Internet controls

Beijing pledges tougher rules for search engines, instant messaging and news portals, among others

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China's President Xi Jinping has reasserted the ruling Communist Party's role in limiting and guiding online discussion. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING • China will further tighten its Internet regulations after it made a pledge yesterday to strengthen controls over search engines and news portals.

The move is the latest step in President Xi Jinping's push to maintain strict Communist Party control over content, and he has made China's "cyber sovereignty" a top priority in his sweeping campaign to bolster security.

He has also reasserted the ruling Communist Party's role in limiting and guiding online discussion.

The five-year cultural development and reform plan released by the party and State Council, or Cabinet, calls for a "perfecting" of laws and rules related to the Internet.

That, according to the plan, includes a qualification system for people working in online news, reported the official Xinhua news agency. "Strike hard against online rumours, harmful information, fake news, news extortion, fake media and fake reporters," it said, without giving details.

Existing laws and regulations on news and publishing will be extended to cover the management of online media, according to the document.

It said the government will intensify management over search engines, instant messaging tools and news apps, as well as clarify operators' responsibilities for the content disseminated via microblog or WeChat.

WeChat, known as Weixin in China, is the world's most popular messaging service, with 889 million global users by the end of last year. Overall, China's Internet market expanded 6.2 per cent last year, gaining 43 million Internet users to put the total number of users at 731 million, according to the China Internet Network Information Centre.

A survey by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences last year found that more than 90 per cent of Chinese netizens access news through their mobile phones.

When asked about their preferred platform, 68.3 per cent of those surveyed said they prefer to use news apps while 57.8 per cent opted for browsers. WeChat was in the third place, followed by Weibo .

China's censors have been trying to control the flood of information spread through instant-messaging apps, blogs and other media sources that are proliferating across the country.

New rules announced last Tuesday require online publishers to obtain government licences and block foreign or private firms from investing in online news services or directly disseminating news. The new rules take effect next month.

In February, the country's Internet regulator proposed setting up an intra-departmental body to examine and coordinate national policies. President Xi has been explicit that media outlets must follow the party line, uphold the correct guidance on public opinion and promote"positive propaganda".

The government blueprint made public yesterday calls for efforts to reinforce and improve "positive propaganda". The plan also calls for more effort to be put into promoting China's point of view and cultural soft power globally, but there were no other details.

It comes on top of existing tight Internet controls, which include the blocking of popular foreign websites such as Google and Facebook.

Regulators said tighter controls are necessary in the face of growing security threats, and are done in accordance with the law.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 08, 2017, with the headline China to further tighten Internet controls. Subscribe