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China’s New Rules: You Need a Permit to Share News on Social Media

China’s State Council Information Office released updated regulations on May 2 that will restrict individuals from writing and reading news stories from individual blogs and social media, including Sina Weibo and WeChat. Under the news rules, users will be required to obtain a permit before writing or distributing news on social media.

The updated version of the “Provisions for the Administration of Internet News Information Service” will take effect on June 1, 2017.

Along with restrictions on news reporting, the rules will also require individuals to submit real identity information when subscribing to a news information service.

The original provisions were introduced in September 2005 to restrict online news outlets from writing and publishing original news stories from “illegitimate” sources in an effort to force all online portals to distribute news only from news agencies licensed by Internet News Information Service Work Units.

Despite the many layers of censorship that China is so well known for, the digital media environment has given rise to a robust industry of individuals doing serious news reporting online. The country’s various social media platforms have enabled more and more independent writers to use blogs, Weibo, and WeChat public platforms to write news features or news commentary.

Some independent journalists or commercial media outlets have even managed to support their work with readers’ cash tips and commercial ads.

(Image: Thomas Galvez via flickr / CC BY 2.0 )
Live-streaming mobile apps have made it even more difficult for the censors to stop live reports on time. (Image: Thomas Galvez via flickr / CC BY 2.0 )

Individual bloggers who publish politically sensitive stories are subject to heavy censorship by the authorities and the community abuse reporting system on the public platforms of social media. Yet many have learned how to write reports that share important information with the public without violating political and community rules. Live-streaming mobile apps have made it even more difficult for the censors to stop live reports on time.

The newly announced provisions may curb this trend by extending previous restrictions from web portals and news outlets to all social communication platforms.

Prominent tech blogger William Long explained the impact of the new provisions on individual social media users by highlighting the amended articles in the regulations in a recent post:

Long compared the old and new regulations, pointing to the broadening of these rules to all of social media:

According to the provision, news information is defined as reports, comments on social and public affairs, including politics, economics, military, diplomacy, and breaking news. The term “Internet news service” is defined as reporting, editing, distributing, and redistributing of news, and the operating of distributing platforms.

The term ‘Internet news service’ is defined as reporting, editing, distributing, and redistributing of news, and the operating of distributing platforms. (Image: Kai Hendry via flickr / CC BY 2.0 )

In an interview with Voice of America, Wen Yunchao, a Chinese political dissident based in the U.S., pointed out that it would be almost impossible for ordinary individuals and websites to obtain news information permits:

The set of new regulations also require readers to provide real identity information when subscribing to Internet News Information Service:

Long believes the new requirement is intended to reduce anonymous comments in news-related conversations on social media, writing:

Chang Ping, an exiled Chinese journalist based in Germany, agreed that the real name registration is to stop anonymous comments on social media news threads:

The regulations also require Internet News Information Service Providers to hire professional editors and journalists with licensed press cards for processing news stories (Article 11), and to ensure that private capital investors do not intervene into the operation of the news room.

Since 2013, Chinese authorities have mainly used China’s Rumor Law to stop individual netizens from distributing unverified news information on social media. Under the law, any piece of news or information that has not been released by official government channels can be considered a rumor.

The new regulations provide additional legal ground to curb individual netizens’ rights to free speech by forbidding them from writing original witness reports, distributing news information from illegitimate sources, and commenting on news anonymously.

While the regulations will be enforced on June 1, many doubt that authorities and the social media platforms will be able to implement all the requirements:

As the implementation of the regulation would almost be impossible, one netizen believes that it is inevitable that law enforcement or social media platforms will end up enforcing the regulations selectively:

It is too soon to know exactly how the regulations be implemented after June 1. But what we can anticipate is that the space for independent journalistic activities on social media will be further restrained.

This article by Oiwan Lam originally appeared on Global Voices.

[Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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