Several of the few remaining sources of original reporting in China are being shut down as part of the central government’s bid to exert ever more control over press in the country.
The country’s chief internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China, said over the weekend that internet portal sites Tencent, Sina (SINA), and NetEase—China’s Yahoo-like sites—must cease original reporting and only carry official state-sanctioned news in the future.
That’s according to the state-run ThePaper site, as well as other Chinese media, Bloomberg reported, though by Monday the story couldn’t be found on ThePaper.
Tencent (TCEHY) and others have built up their news operations in recent years to meet demand from China’s internet users, especially young ones who never bother with the state-run newspapers like People’s Daily or Global Times. But President Xi Jinping has spent the last year consolidating power over the press. He toured the offices of state outlets in February and demanded absolute loyalty. “Journalistic work by the party’s news media should reflect the party’s will and views, protect the authority of the central party leadership, and preserve the party’s unity,” he told CCTV at the time.
In an example of how paranoid the politics in China are becoming, the Hong Kong press reported last week that Tencent’s portal is now being supervised by a regulator in Beijing instead of its hometown Shenzhen, after the site ran a typo in a story covering a speech by President Xi Jinping earlier this month.
Tencent and others fill in gaps left by the state-run press’s propaganda efforts—gaps that include gossipy coverage of tech and business stories. The internet portals have long been under the watch of censors, but in the past they had the freedom to publish stories first and scrub them from the web later if they went too far for censors. Now it appears they won’t even have the chance to put them up.
NetEase (NTES) will be hit hard. It runs the search site 163.com and adds its own stories to a popular news roundup app that includes state press reports. Users likely won’t be thrilled to find their news app filled with the same state-run news stories floating through Chinese cyberspace elsewhere.
A few hard-hitting Chinese news sites—like business-focused Caixin—weren’t implicated in the new rules. Caixin has always covered sensitive topics with an ear towards censors, publishing stories right before censors demand coverage to be stopped. It might skirt the new regulators.
But most of the country’s internet users turn to the Internet portals like Tencent, NetEase, and Sina for their news. They won’t find much untainted by the state-run press any longer.