China Unveils Tough Controls on Foreign Media Activities

China is dramatically increasing its restrictions on foreign media operations in the country. Foreign-owned media or joint ventures in China will not be able to publish online without prior approval.

The ban, which takes effect as of March 10, covers text content, video, maps, games, digital books, art and literature.

Notification of the new restrictions was jointly issued by the State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

One of the new regulations also requires media companies to keep their servers and data storage.

The new regulations appear to be a greater tightening of restrictions that further extends state control over the Internet. China already has considerable restrictions on conventional media, and most foreign TV channels cannot operate widely in the country.

The country also operates a massive and proactive Web censorship system, commonly nicknamed the “Great Firewall of China,” which monitors social media, filters out certain websites, and is able to target individual Web pages.

Additionally, some of the largest foreign Internet companies are effectively banned from operating directly in China. They include Google (and its Gmail and YouTube products), Facebook and Twitter.

The 40 points of the new regulations appear to allow foreign content to be published by Chinese media or by approved foreign companies, but only after lengthy approvals periods that would rule out news activities.

As is typical of much Chinese regulation, the new rules appear to be simultaneously wide-reaching and vaguely drawn. That creates a large gray area of what may or may not be allowed and encourages media to err on the side of caution.

Chinese-owned media have also been told to increase their internal censorship.

The restrictions appear designed to give the authorities greater ability to keep out any material that is critical of China or presents points of view that are different from the approved political line. That spans news reporting and political commentary, but also includes social media and readers comments. It may also include the content of scientific journals.

It has also emerged that CCTV has dropped its plans to broadcast the upcoming Hong Kong Film Awards in March, because of the inclusion of “10 Years,” an independent film imagining the future of Hong Kong, among the best film nominees.

Freedom of speech and media activities in China have come under increasing control since Xi Jinping became president in 2012. At the World Internet Forum in December, Xi gave an opening speech that made clear China’s belief in a system where sovereign countries are free to control the Internet how they choose within their own borders.

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