China Shutters Video Streaming Services, Tightening Net on Online Media


2017.06.23
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internet-regulator-06232017.jpg Beijing headquarters of China's powerful State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), in file photo.
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China's powerful media regulator has issued shutdown orders to three leading video streaming sites amid a nationwide crackdown on online media.

Microblogging platform Sina Weibo, popular online video site ACFUN and news portal iFeng.com have been ordered to halt video streaming services that violate regulations restricting online media, the TV and film watchdog said on Thursday.

The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) announced the move in a statement on its official website, saying it was part of a bid to create "a clean online environment."

The move comes after the agency announced a ban last December on user-generated audio and video, in a country where all news is controlled by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

The rules said that any audio or video content posted by users must have government approval in the form of transmission licenses.

Social media providers are also required 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, sources told RFA at the time.

Shares in SINA Corp and Weibo Corp fell on Friday on the news, Reuters reported.

Hebei-based veteran journalist Zhu Xinxin said the government is afraid that spontaneous online video could spark political reactions among Chinese people.

"The Chinese Communist Party is controlling this sort of things, because they are mostly afraid that somebody could post anything at any time showing some breaking news in any part of the country," he said. "In particular, they don't want to see any kind of mass incident."

"In addition, the government doesn't want the general public to hear about news that shows it in an unfavorable light," he said. "They are afraid that social media users will leak stuff like that, and tell the whole world about it."

'Internet sovereignty'

Independent documentary film-maker Du Bin said the party leadership is very keen to ensure that nothing controversial is posted online ahead of a crucial political meeting later in the year.

"I think this is all part of a clean-up ahead of the 19th Party Congress in the fall," Du said. "The point is to achieve total control over the internet with China's borders; internet sovereignty."

"They don't want people finding out too much."

Beijing-based columnist Liu Suli said the government is unlikely to relax the rules again after the party congress, however.

"It has been like this for a few years now," Liu said. "There has been a consistent policy of tightening control over public freedom of expression."

"It's entirely consistent with what they've been doing up until now, but there is still a big question mark over how much of this they'll be able to enforce."

"Also, it could give rise to negative side-effects. This is just piling foolishness upon foolishness ... because one day, they'll have total control over the internet, and we'll be just like North Korea."

"Is that a price they can afford to pay?"

Last week, China's Cyberspace Administration shut down dozens of celebrity gossip social media accounts for failing to "actively propagate core socialist values."

China has already moved to ban the country's internet portals like Tencent and Sina from conducting any independent journalism of their own, requiring them to post syndicated content from the state-run Xinhua news agency and state broadcaster CCTV instead.

The country's internet regulator in August ordered all websites to start round-the-clock monitoring of content, holding editors personally responsible for "problem" content not in line with official narratives issued by the government.

Reported by Lin Ping for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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