China clamps down on internet video

China has announced new rules to control the explosion of audio-visual content on the internet, in a move seen as an effort to transfer the government’s television- and radio-censorship model to websites.

Only state-controlled entities will have the right to operate websites that post audio-visual material under the new regulations, which state clearly that all content must adhere to the ruling Communist Party’s values.

“Those who provide internet audio and video services should insist on serving the people, serve socialism ... and abide by the moral code of socialism,” a government notice said.

All content must be free of violence, sex or gambling, and cannot reveal state secrets or portray morally, socially or politically harmful situations, according to the notice.

The new rules have thrown into doubt how freely video-sharing websites that have become enormously popular in recent years, such as YouTube and China’s Tudou, will be able to operate.

Under the rules, posted on a government website and to take effect from January 31, websites seeking to offer audio-visual services will have to seek a broadcast licence, renewable every three years.

“Those applying for internet audio-visual service [licences] must at the same time ... be solely state-owned enterprises or enterprises whose shares are controlled by the state,” the notice said.

The rules led to rare harsh criticism of the government from some sections of the traditional media, which operate under a tough censorship system and where following the government’s agenda is normally a must.

The 21st Century Business Herald said the regulations were attempting to place China’s draconian rules on television and film broadcasting on to internet videos and “podcasts”.

“These are disastrous regulations,” the paper said.

The Southern Metropolitan Daily said the regulations would channel industry profits still being developed by small entrepreneurs into the coffers of state-run companies.

“We need industry policies that encourage the historic wave that advances this kind of technology that is bringing prosperity and transforming civilisation,” the daily said in an editorial.

“We don’t need the one-sided field of vision seen in the days of the planned economy, where normal advances and growth are curbed by [the government] suppressing market forces.”

Liu Bin, a Beijing-based analyst with media technology consultancy firm BDA China, said the government was concerned over the rising popularity and power of video-sharing and online television.

“Online video websites have become a very influential media platform, so [the government] feels controls have to been ramped up,” Liu said.

As an example of the difference between old and new media, videos of anti-government protests that would never appear on state-run television often find their way on the internet to be viewed by countless Chinese.

Chinese authorities have also found it extremely tough to eradicate pornography on the internet, despite massive efforts.

However, the critical Chinese press reports and Liu emphasised that it remained unclear exactly how tightly the regulations would be implemented, noting that many other rules are often ignored or circumvented.

Spokespersons for Yahoo China and Google did not want to comment expansively on the new rules.

“There’s always new regulations and you adapt to them as necessary,” Porter Erisman, Beijing-based spokesperson for Yahoo China, said.

A Google China spokesperson said that the company was still studying the rules and refused to comment any further.—AFP

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