China decrees use of foreign news must be approved

You have to wonder how this will be enforced, but China’s State Administration of Press Publication, Radio, Film and Television has issued a “Notice on Strengthening Control of Media Personnel’s Online Activities” (关于加强新闻采编人员网络活动管理的通知). Chinese media organizations have been told to stop posting foreign media news without government permission:  “Without authorization, no kind of media outlets shall arbitrarily use media release from overseas media agencies and media websites,” is the way Caijing magazine translated it.

The directive also says, “News work units that have established official weibo accounts must keep records for their managing work unit and appoint a person to be responsible for posting information.” Our colleagues at the Berkley-based China Digital Times explain that officially approved social media sites like Sina Weibo and others had “allowed journalists to skirt press censorship, posting information about the Wenzhou train crash, the Southern Weekly protest, and other major events on their personal accounts. Media organizations have even issued weibo in defiance of propaganda directives. The government has caught on and is now attempting to stymy this outlet.”

To make sure everyone got the message, an article headlined “SARFT to enhance control over editors’ online activities,” explaining the new rules, was apparently published by almost all state-run media at the same time. You can find an unofficial translation here posted by the China-watching website A Big Enough Forest. The directive comes in an effort “to promote the establishment of a healthy news order” the official explanation reads.

According to the translation, the new directive also requires that editors “must quickly delete harmful information. News editors must receive permission from their work units to set up professional Weibo accounts, and must not post information on Weibo that violates laws, regulations, or managing rules from their own media organizations. Without approval, they are not permitted to post any kind of information obtained through their professional activities.”

Other than the day-to-day (and sometimes minute-to-minute) editorial guidelines flowing out of what used to be called the central propaganda department, this is the first major censorship directive to be handed down under the new government of Premier Li Keqiang. If there were any hopes of a liberalized attitude toward media under the new regime, this part of the official explanation for the directive, as translated by A Big Enough Forest, should make clear that won’t be happening anytime soon:

The “Notice” requires that news editors must uphold the policy of encouraging unity and stability, and promoting positive coverage in the main, while actively using traditional media, news sites, blogs, Weibo accounts and other methods of information dissemination to broadcast mainstream information, guide public opinion, and take the initiative to  reject leaks and broadcasts of harmful information; they must not use or report online information that has not been verified through official channels, and must not disseminate or repost online rumors or speculative information.

And, courtesy of China Digital Times, a point of clarification for China watchers enamored of state agency acronyms: The State Administration of Press Publication, Radio, Film and Television is a new ministry formed from the merger of the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT) and the General Administration of Press Publication (GAPP). That should make handing down censorship directives just that much easier.