Chinese state-controlled media are on an even shorter leash

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TTHE COMMUNIST PARTY management, with “comrade Xi Jinping at heart,” attaches “great importance” to Internet content management. That’s what the government said on October 20 when it released new instructions on the news that could be reposted online. It was an understatement. Under the party regime, the Chinese press has never enjoyed a minimum of freedom. Xi has relentlessly tightened controls. Journalists and editors deemed politically capricious have been disciplined, fired or jailed.

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The new directive, issued by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), updates a list, first published in 2016, of news sources that other websites may republish. CAC said the review was aimed at “resolutely closing the ‘backdoor’ on the illegal collection and redistribution of information.”

The list names 1,358 approved points of sale. This is almost four times more than those named in the previous one. It is not a sign of relaxation. The larger number simply reflects the proliferation of news websites run by state media. It is more important to note sources that are no longer listed. The most visible is Caixin Online, a popular and reliable website.

Since its launch in 2009, Caixin Online has been an outlier in China’s lackluster media landscape. It often goes far beyond other media with investigative reporting and coverage of topics such as corruption, environmental issues and sensitive political debates. At the start of the pandemic, he questioned the official death toll in Wuhan, indicating an unusual workload in crematoria. Its founder, Hu Shuli, previously ran a magazine titled Caijing, which once occupied a similar niche. Ms. Hu is politically well connected and has a keen sense of how to skate near party red lines, but rarely above them.

She and her colleagues could feel the effects of a recent further tightening of the party’s grip. On October 8, China’s planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), published a draft regulation reiterating the ban on private investment in most information operations. Such restrictions have been in place since at least 2005, but have not been rigorously enforced. State media suggest that this time the change is underway. According to a widely quoted Chinese expert, previously non-compliant arrangements will be “cleaned up”. It will be a big job. Like Caixin, many Chinese media, although fully operated and state-controlled, have complex ownership structures that include large holdings from private investors.

Pro-government commentators praised the party’s determination. Sima Nan, a blogger in Beijing with more than 2.4 million subscribers on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like platform, estimated that a loosening of media controls in the Soviet Union accelerated its collapse in 1991. ” It’s an ideological struggle, ”he said. said, comparing the NDRCa ban on “removing firewood from under a cauldron” – a common Chinese way of describing drastic measures taken to deal with an emergency.

Sina Weibo is owned by Sina Corporation, a non-state tech giant. But it is clear that the NDRC has no sights on press analysts like Mr. Sima.

This article appeared in the China section of the print edition under the headline “All news for reprint”


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