New regulations require Internet companies to censor news

New York, July 15, 2002—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is gravely concerned by the passage of new regulations restricting online news in China. The regulations, together with a voluntary pledge signed by more than 300 companies and organizations—including the U.S.-based Yahoo!—to prevent distribution of “harmful” material online, indicate a clear step backward for freedom of expression in China.

The “Interim Regulations on Management of Internet Publishing,” which were promulgated jointly by the State Administration of Press and Publishing and the Ministry of Information Technology, go into effect on August 1, according to a report by the official Xinhua News Agency.

The regulations outline topics that are forbidden on online news sites, including reports that “harm national unity, sovereignty or territorial integrity;” “reveal state secrets, endanger national security, or damage national honor or interests;” or “disturb the social order or damage social stability.” They also outlaw news “advocating cults or superstition,” which could cover any reports about the banned spiritual group Falun Gong.

The Chinese government routinely uses charges of “revealing state secrets” and “endangering national security” to prosecute individuals who publish independent news and opinion. Thirteen individuals are currently in prison in China for publishing or distributing information online.

Over the last few years, the Chinese government has issued a series of regulations limiting online content and holding Internet Service Providers and Web site publishers responsible for censoring their content. The latest regulations outline specific penalties, including fines, for online publications that publish illegal content. Online publishers must designate an editor to examine the content of the news and determine if it violates the new rules before it is posted. Web sites must also indicate on their front page that the relevant government office has approved the site. Web publishers must immediately report any offending content to the State Administration of Press and Publishing in Beijing or its regional offices.

Operators of Web sites that do not abide by the new rules will face penalties including heavy fines, confiscation of equipment, and the closure of their site.

“We condemn the government’s efforts to force private Internet companies to censor themselves,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper.

Yahoo! signs voluntary pledge
In a related development, various organizations and companies have signed the voluntary “Public Pledge on Self-discipline for China’s Internet Industry,” which calls on signatories to refrain “from producing, posting or disseminating harmful information that may jeopardize state security and disrupt social stability, contravene laws and regulations, and spread superstition and obscenity.”

The China office of the U.S.-based Yahoo!, which maintains a Chinese-language Web site, has signed the pledge. Nearly all other companies and organizations on the list appear to be based in China.

The Internet Society of China (ISC), a self-regulatory body that has close ties to the government, wrote and is distributing the pledge. ISC members include 140 domestic news organizations, universities, government offices, and private companies.