China's move to tighten control beyond celebrity gossip websites draws concern


China's crackdown on Internet content will likely affect social media giants like Weibo as well as other small platforms.
China's crackdown on Internet content will likely affect social media giants like Weibo as well as other small platforms.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's latest manoeuvre in a sweeping crackdown on Internet content has sent a chill through a diverse community of film-makers, bloggers, media folks and educators who fear their sites could be shut down as Beijing tightens control.

Over the last month, Chinese regulators have closed celebrity gossip websites, restricted what videos people can post and suspended online streaming, all on grounds of inappropriate content.

On Friday, an industry association circulated new regulations that at least two "auditors" will, with immediate effect, be required to check all audiovisual content posted online - from films to "micro" movies, documentaries, sports, educational material and animation - to ensure they adhere to"core socialist values".

Topics deemed inappropriate include drug addiction and homosexuality, said the government-affiliated China Netcasting Services Association, which represents more than 600 members.

People flocked online at the weekend to criticise the move, with most saying it was a step backwards that would hamper creativity.

Some noted it could be near impossible to enforce.

Under the government rules, such works as Georges Bizet's opera Carmen and Shakespeare's Othello would technically have to be banned for depicting prostitution and overt displays of affection, one commentator said.

The rules, which affect social media giants like Weibo as well as small platforms that have thrived in China's buzzing creative online space, are the latest step in toughening oversight ahead of the Communist Party Congress later this year, when President Xi Jinping is expected to consolidate power.

While censorship of creative content in China is nothing new, the Internet has generally been a more permissive arena because of the grey areas around regulation.

In June, China's cyberspace authorities ordered Internet firms like Baidu and Tencent Holding to close 60 popular celebrity gossip social media accounts.