OpenNet Initiative: Bulletin 012
China Tightens Controls on Internet News Content Through Additional Regulations
July 6, 2006
Last Updated: July 5, 2006
- Regulations Summary
- Specific Provisions of Regulations
China's new regulations for Internet news content significantly tighten prior requirements that govern all news-related content transmitted through Internet-based technologies. The regulations target not only existing news organizations, but also individuals and groups posting news-related content to personal Web sites, Web logs (blogs), mobile phone text messaging (through Simple Message Service, or SMS), and other Internet communication forums. The regulations provide broad coverage and expansive government discretion in defining and punishing offences, effectively restricting legal Internet news content to that produced or sanctioned by the Chinese government.
On September 25, 2005, China put forth a new set of rules governing Internet news Web sites.(1) Promulgated by the Ministry for Information Industry(2) and the State Council Information Office,(3) the rules are China's first significant revision to the existing regulations governing Internet news (enacted in 2000).(4) These rules join a growing body of national regulations governing Web content enacted in China since 1994,(5) the year of the first Internet connection in China.(6)
China's stated policy goals underlying the new rules are to regulate Internet news, satisfy the public's demand for news, safeguard national security, protect the rights of Internet news providers, and promote the "healthy and orderly" development of Internet news.(7) A Chinese government spokesman portrayed the regulations as a positive step towards "better regulat[ing] the online news services" and counteracting "the emergence of so many unhealthy news stories that will easily mislead the public." (8) Critics, though, view the new measures as a form of censorship.(9)
The regulations evidence a sustained commitment by China to monitor and regulate Internet content, and, by doing so, restrict Chinese Internet users' access to controversial information or news about current events. With over 110 million Internet users in China,(10) many of whom rely on the Internet as a primary news source, the regulations promise to "shape public opinion in cyberspace."(11)
The Rules on the Administration of Internet News Information Services (RAINIS) govern all Internet-based "News Information." "News Information" broadly includes all "current events" and "reporting and commentary"(12) regarding "politics, economic, military affairs, foreign affairs, ... social and public affairs as well as commentary relating to fast breaking social events."(13) Under RAINIS, an "Internet News Information Service" is defined as any organization involved in electronically transmitting content to the public that satisfies the expansive definition of "News Information";(14) this includes communicating it via the Web, electronic bulletin services, and mobile phone text messages, among other methods.(15) Electronic bulletin services encompass nearly all types of interactive Internet-based communication, including "electronic bulletin boards, electronic white boards, electronic forums, Internet chat rooms, message boards, and other forms of interactive behavior characterized by the provision of information dissemination for online customers."(16) Any person or organization that disseminates news via the Internet is subject to the new regulations.
RAINIS identifies three distinct groups of potential "Internet News Information Service" organizations.(17) The first group includes government-licensed news agencies that republish news from non-electronic sources on the Internet. The second group includes government-licensed news agencies that publish original news on the Internet. The third group includes any other source of news-related material on the Internet, including general interest Web sites, personal sites, and blogs.(18) For the first two groups - Internet news sites published by established and government-approved news agencies - the regulations are partially a "codification of existing practice."(19) Licensed news organizations have long been "under the thumb of state control" and are subject to extensive regulation by the General Administration of Press and Publication (which determines who is authorized to produce and publish original news content in China) and the Ministry for Information Industry and the State Council Information Office (which are involved in controlling the dissemination of news over the Internet).(20) For ordinary news, the regulations serve primarily as a reminder of existing government expectations rather than as entirely new requirements. Importantly, however, the regulations impose new bans on news commentary (as opposed to factual reporting) previously permitted for these two groups.
Several key changes in the regulations target the third category of news Web sites: those not hosted by established, licensed news agencies.(21) Under this category, a group or individual wishing to post any type of "News Information" on a personal site or blog must now satisfy heightened organizational requirements,(22) registration requirements,(23) content restrictions,(24) and record-keeping obligations.(25)
Specific Provisions of Regulations
The provisions of RAINIS apply either to all Internet entities distributing news or target a specific group of news sites (as explained above).
A. Generally Applicable Content Restrictions
The 2000 regulations and RAINIS both enumerate extremely broad categories of content prohibited on all types of Internet news Web sites. These categories leave crucial terms undefined - for example, "state secrets," "interests of the nation," and "disturbing social order" - thereby providing considerable discretion for state enforcement. The 2000 regulations ban any material categorized as:
- violating the basic principles as they are confirmed in the Constitution;
- jeopardizing the security of the nation, divulging state secrets, subverting state power, or jeopardizing the integrity of the nation's unity;
- harming the honor or the interests of the nation;
- inciting hatred against peoples, racism against peoples, or disrupting the solidarity of peoples;
- disrupting national policies on religion, propagating evil cults, and propagating feudal superstitions;
- spreading rumors, compiling and promulgating false news, disturbing social order, or disrupting social stability;
- spreading obscenity, pornography, gambling, violence, terror, or abetting the commission of a crime;
- insulting or defaming third parties, infringing on the legal rights and interests of third parties; or
- constituting any other content prohibited by law or rules.(26)
RAINIS reiterates these existing nine categories and adds two additional categories of prohibited content. First, sites may not publish or broadcast material "inciting illegal assemblies, associations, marches, demonstrations, or gatherings that disturb social order."(27) Second, websites may not "conduct activities in the name of an illegal civil organization."(28) These new categories appear aimed at curtailing use of the Internet as a medium for organizing citizen protests, which, despite being treated as subversive and illegal by the state, have become widespread, swelling t0 as many as 87,000 in China in 2005.(29) The new categories, like the previous nine, use sweeping language and leave considerable room for interpretation by enforcement officials.
All three types of news sites must avoid posting objectionable content falling into any of the eleven categories. Under the new regulations, posting prohibited content or refusing to delete prohibited content results in a warning, a fine of 10,000 to 30,000 yuan (about $1,200 to $3,700), or termination of the Web site.(30) The penalty depends on the severity of the circumstances as determined by the enforcing agency.(31) Like the sweeping and undefined language in the regulations, this sliding scale allows for substantial government discretion in enforcement. Sites must also continually record and archive news content, dates of publication, and Web addresses of all published material - all of which must be provided to the government upon request.(32)
B. Group 1: Web Sites by Authorized News Agencies - Reprinting Only
News sites run by government-licensed and authorized news agencies that simply reprint previously published news face few unique requirements as Internet news sources. Such a site must register with the State Council Information Office(33) and abide by the generally applicable content rules.(34) News stories approved for non-Internet distribution may be posted to the Internet, but the organization must not "distort the contents of the original News Information."(35)
C. Group 2: Web Sites by Authorized News Agencies - Original Publications
Authorized, licensed news agencies that want to post original material on the Internet in addition to previously published or broadcast materials must satisfy more stringent organizational and content requirements. The news organization must employ at least five full-time "news editorial personnel," each with at least three years' experience at an authorized news agency.(36)
The heightened content restrictions mandate that the site publish only two types of news. First, the organization may publish independently-gathered news on specific subjects "for which they have been checked and ratified" by the state.(37) Second, the organization must publish government-issued news in its full and undistorted form.(38) For both types of content, the organization must clearly denote the source of the news.(39) These heightened restrictions prevent major search engines and Web portals from "posting their own commentary articles."(40) Thus, the only news opinion or analysis pieces allowed for publication on these Web sites are those generated by state-controlled newspapers and news agencies.
D. Group 3: General Web Sites Hosting News Content
The third category of sites set out by the regulations encompasses all news Web sites other than those of authorized news agencies. These include electronic bulletin services, personal sites, and blogs.(41)
A news organization in this category must employ at least ten full-time "news editorial personnel," five of whom must have at least three years' experience at an authorized news agency.(42) Thus, a general interest news Web site must employ five more people than a Group 2 authorized news agency. The general interest organization must possess registered capital of 10,000,000 yuan (about $1.2 million),(43) while Group 2 organizations must only have capital "as [is] necessary."(44)
Any sites in this category that publish "News Information" must also satisfy an additional, more stringent content requirement than the other two categories. The generally applicable content restrictions and the specific content requirements for Group 2 sites apply. Most importantly, sites in this category "may not post News Information they have gathered and edited themselves."(45) Effectively, this group may only reproduce and publish news from government-authorized news agencies on their sites.
The sweeping language and vague terms used in the regulations make predicting their long-term effects difficult. The regulations will, however, support China's continued efforts to police and censor the Internet. The extent to which the regulations will alter China's Internet depend principally on how China enforces the regulations. Given the considerable personnel and resources China devotes to monitoring the Internet, stringent enforcement would be unsurprising. According to the Asia Media Forum, at least three Web sites have been forced to close since China instituted the new regulations: a Web forum hosting debate on a village election recall, a Mongolian student forum criticizing a Chinese television cartoon that made fun of Genghis Khan, and a law firm site encouraging visitors to protest the same cartoon by writing to Chinese authorities.(46) The law firm site has since reopened after pledging not to post separatist content.
The three most significant changes implemented in RAINIS are adding categories of prohibited news Web site content (inciting illegal assemblies or conducting activities on behalf of illegal civil organizations), banning non-government opinion and analysis pieces, and greatly increasing requirements for individuals and small groups posting news.
The two new categories of banned material aim to discourage use of the Internet for political organization and mobilization, which are viewed by the Chinese state as subversive. Thus, for example, the increasing use of mobile phone messaging to organize protests not only violates these new regulations,(47) but also falls under several established categories of prohibited content: harming the interests of the nation, disrupting the solidarity of peoples, and disrupting national policies, at least. Rather than changing the legality of using the Internet for "subversive" organization, these new regulations fortify state control over expression on the Internet and serve as a powerful reminder and warning against using the Internet for purposes the state views as threatening.
Banning non-government news commentary primarily affects major search engines and portals that are licensed to publish governmental news and certain types of approved, independently-gathered news. These sites must now stop posting commentary and analysis --except pieces generated by state news agencies -- effectively limiting Internet news to government-created or sanctioned news.
The new requirements for individuals and small groups ban all non-government news and impose organizational and financial requirements likely to exceed the resources of most individuals and groups that attempt to publish Internet news. Depending on how literally the regulations are interpreted and how stringently the requirements are enforced, the new regulations could very well eliminate the ability of many individuals or small organizations to host news Web sites.
China has "the most extensive and effective legal and technological systems for Internet censorship and surveillance in the world."(48) The new Internet news regulations make several specific regulatory changes that strengthen China's grip on news media. More broadly, the regulations demonstrate a continued determination on the part of the Chinese state to align the content of the Internet with official views and policies. While the long-term implications of the regulations are not yet clear, Chinese citizens and organizations involved in Internet news, analysis, or commentary will likely continue doing so warily, if at all.
About the OpenNet Initiative
The OpenNet Initiative is a partnership between the Citizen Lab at the Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, the Advanced Network Research Group at the Cambridge Security Programme at Cambridge University, and the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford.
1. U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Rules on the Administration of Internet New Information Services, available at http://www.cecc.gov/pages/virtualAcad/index.phpd?showsingle=24396. The bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China (http://cecc.gov) "monitor[s] human rights and the development of the rule of law in China." Congressional-Executive Commission on China, at http://www.cecc.gov/ (Feb. 16, 2006). The Commission provided a translation of the new rules. This bulletin relies on the Commission translation. The official rules, as published by Xinhua News Agency, are located at http://news.xinhuanet.com/politics/2005-09/25/content_3538899.htm (Chinese-language).
2. The Ministry for Information Industry "controls the licensing and registration of all ?Internet information services' (sometimes translated as ?Internet content providers'), which are defined to include anyone providing information to the public via the Internet." Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Agencies Responsible for Censorship in China, available at http://www.cecc.gov/pages/virtualAcad/exp/expcensors.php.
3. The State Council Information Office is responsible "for restricting who may post news on the Internet." Id.
4. Joseph Kahn, China Sets New Media Regulations, This Time For Internet, N.Y. TIMES, Sept. 25, 2005, available at http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F60814F63F540C768EDDA00894DD404482. For a CECC translation of the 2000 regulations, see Interim Provisions on the Administration of Internet Web Sites Engaged in News Posting Operations, at http://www.cecc.gov/pages/virtualAcad/index.phpd?showsingle=1569.
5. See, e.g., OpenNet Initiative, Analysis of China's Non-Commercial Web Site Registration Regulation, Feb. 22, 2006, at http://www.opennetinitiative.net/bulletins/011; see also Melinda Liu, Big Brother is Talking, NEWSWEEK, Oct. 17, 2005, available at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9630976/site/newsweek/ (putting the count of internet regulations passed in China as high as 38 since 1994).
6. Derek Bambauer, Cool Tools for Tyrants, LEGAL AFFAIRS, Jan./Feb. 2006, available at http://www.legalaffairs.org/issues/January-February-2006/feature_bambauer_janfeb06.msp.
7. Art. 1, Rules on the Administration of Internet New Information Services.
8. New Measures to Regulate Online News Services, CHINA VIEW, Sept. 26, 2005, available at http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2005-09/26/content_3543389.htm.
9. The Great Firewall of Modern China, FINANCIAL TIMES, Sept. 27, 2005, at 14, available at http://news.ft.com/cms/s/271c571c-2ef3-11da-9aed-00000e2511c8.html.
10. China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), 17th Statistical Survey Report on the Internet Development in
China, at 5, Jan. 2005, available at http://www.cnnic.net.cn/download/2006/17threport-en.pdf.
11. Melinda Liu, Big Brother is Talking, NEWSWEEK, Oct. 17, 2005, available at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9630976/site/newsweek/.
12. Art. 2, Rules on the Administration of Internet New Information Services.
15. New Measures to Regulate Online News Services, CHINA VIEW, Sept. 26, 2005, available at http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2005-09/26/content_3543389.htm.
16. Provisions on the Administration of Electronic Bulletin Services, translation at http://www.cecc.gov/pages/virtualAcad/index.phpd?showsingle=1568.
17. Art. 5, cl. 1-3, Rules on the Administration of Internet New Information Services.
19. The Great Firewall of Modern China, FINANCIAL TIMES, Sept. 27, 2005, at 14, available at http://news.ft.com/cms/s/271c571c-2ef3-11da-9aed-00000e2511c8.html.
20. See China Tightens Control on Internet, CNN, Sept. 27, 2005, available at http://edition.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/asiapcf/09/27/china.internet.reut/.
21. Art. 5, cl. 2, Rules on the Administration of Internet New Information Services.
22. Art. 5, Rules on the Administration of Internet New Information Services.
23. Art. 10-11, Rules on the Administration of Internet New Information Services.
24. Art. 19, Rules on the Administration of Internet New Information Services.
25. Art. 21, Rules on the Administration of Internet New Information Services.
26. Art. 13, cl. 1-9, Interim Provisions on the Administration of Internet Web Sites Engaged in News Posting Operations, available at http://www.cecc.gov/pages/virtualAcad/index.phpd?showsingle=1569.
27. Art. 19, cl. 9, Rules on the Administration of Internet New Information Services.
28. Art. 19, cl. 10, Rules on the Administration of Internet New Information Services.
29. See U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Ministry of Public Security Reports Rise in Public Order Disturbances in 2005, Jan 30, 2006, at www.cecc.gov/pages/virtualAcad/index.phpd?showsingle=37602.
30. Art. 27, Rules on the Administration of Internet New Information Services.
31. Under Article 27, the relevant enforcement body is either the State Council Information Office or the information office for the specific providence, region, or municipality.
32. Art. 21, Rules on the Administration of Internet New Information Services.
33. Art. 12, Rules on the Administration of Internet New Information Services.
34. See Generally Applicable Content Restrictions above.
35. Art 16, Rules on the Administration of Internet New Information Services.
36. Art. 7, Rules on the Administration of Internet New Information Services.
37. Art. 15, Rules on the Administration of Internet New Information Services. The procedure to become "checked and ratified" to post original news content on specific subjects is not specified by these regulations.
38. Art. 16, Rules on the Administration of Internet New Information Services.
39. Art. 16, Rules on the Administration of Internet New Information Services.
40. Joseph Kahn, China Sets New Media Regulations, This Time For Internet, N.Y. TIMES, Sept. 25, 2005, available at http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F60814F63F540C768EDDA00894DD404482.
41. Art. 5, cl. 2, Rules on the Administration of Internet New Information Services.
42. Art. 8, Rules on the Administration of Internet New Information Services.
43. Art. 8, Rules on the Administration of Internet New Information Services.
44. Art. 7, Rules on the Administration of Internet New Information Services.
45. Art. 16, Rules on the Administration of Internet New Information Services.
46. Bejing Ramps Up Control of Internet, ASIA MEDIA FORUM, Oct. 14, 2005, available at http://www.asiamediaforum.org/node/326.
47. Kevin Anderson, Breaking Down the Great Firewall, BBC NEWS, Apr. 30, 2005, available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4496163.stm.
48. Internet Filtering in China in 2004-2005: A Country Study, Apr. 14, 2005, available at http://www.opennetinitiative.net/china/.