China has issued a new set of rules imposing state controls on all employees in privately run news and information apps.
From Dec. 1, 2017, any private content providers must provide the details, employment and training record of all editorial employees in a bid to prevent the spread of what the ruling Chinese Communist Party regards as "illegal" information.
Staff employed to moderate, edit and censor online content will be required to do so in a manner consistent with "Marxist media principles," and will receive government training in how to promote "socialist values."
The country's powerful Cyberspace Administration issued the new guidelines within days of President Xi Jinping's ascent during the 19th party congress to the status of "core" leader on a par with late supreme leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.
"The State Internet Information Office shall establish a unified management information system for employing employees, recording the basic information of employees, as well as their records of training, experience, rewards and punishments, to be updated regularly," the rules state.
"Internet Information Offices at a local level are responsible for establishing information management systems for local employees, and for reporting updates and adjustments to the Internet Information Office at a higher level," it said.
Officials are also required to hold files detailing the employment records of private sector employees in online content providers, including the setting up of "blacklists" for any who allow the publication of unauthorized information, it said.
The new rules are part of an ongoing nationwide clampdown on the kind of content deemed acceptable for Chinese media outlets to publish, and are widely seen as targeting social media and smartphone apps that aggregate content, including that not approved by the state.
An estimated 555 million Chinese people use news aggregator apps, an increase of more than 50 percent since 2010, while two-thirds of news is obtained overall from non-government sources.
In June, China issued stringent new licensing requirements for private companies offering video live-streaming and other "broadcast content," while ordering social media providers to limit audio and video content to that produced by state-approved providers, who already hold an "audiovisual online transmission license," it said.
Such licenses are very hard to obtain, are generally not held by online content providers, and are only held by some 300 organizations in China.
And in September, Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily criticized news aggregator giant Jinri Toutiao for putting out "incorrect information."
Hu Ping, the New York-based editor of the Chinese-language monthly Beijing Spring, said the government is less concerned with "fake news" than it is with unflattering news, however.
"Everyone who works in this industry knows all too well what the authorities require of them," Hu said. "What that means is that there is some content that must be deleted, regardless of how true or accurate it is."
"It can't be published."
Nanjing resident Hong Chendian said the new rules have little to do with improving the quality of online news, as claimed in the directive, and are too vague to be of much use.
"There aren't any specific standards to be upheld, other than saying that they have to abide by the constitution," Hong said. "There's nothing about specific forms of speech by the general public, and what laws they might break."
"There are different rules and standards coming out all the time now, and nobody knows whether the guidelines will be different tomorrow," Hong said.
A resident of northern Hebei province surnamed Zhu agreed.
"Internet regulation in China isn't about helping the internet to develop; it's about controlling it," Zhu said. "The point of such guidelines is to shut down public debate and freedom of information."
Reported by Lin Ping for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.