China’s Internet Censor Increases Scrutiny on News Portals

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China’s top online watchdog announced greater local supervision of online news portals, in a bid to rein in a bastion of freewheeling content on the country’s heavily censored Internet.

The Cyberspace Administration of China has empowered the agency’s local officers to question online news content providers about any apparent violations of rules against spreading false, violent, pornographic or politically sensitive information. Such posts by Web portals had hurt the public interest, Fan Li, head of the agency’s information service bureau, said Tuesday at a Beijing briefing announcing the rule.

The move will mean greater scrutiny for new portals run by companies such as Tencent Holdings Ltd., Sina Corp. and NetEase Inc. China’s long-established Internet censorship regime has intensified under President Xi Jinping, with agencies last year restricting political news sent via messaging apps and ordering the deletion of thousands of social-networking posts in a “Cleaning the Web” campaign.

NetEase reviewed its content three times this year, after inquiries from the agency and deleted more than 24,000 items from its Web pages, Fan said.

Zhan Yuanyuan, a spokeswoman for NetEase’s news portals, said the company was “actively collaborating with regulatory agencies” to build mechanisms to address the matter.

Those found to be in violation of the rules would first receive a warning, he said. Repeat offenders could be banned from publishing.

A Cyberspace Administration ban on the use of online account names deemed “unlawful” or “unsound,” including “Putin” and “Obama,” began last month. The clampdown was aimed at eliminating information that “seriously damages socialism’s core values” or “violates the public interest,” said Xu Feng, director of the agency’s mobile Internet bureau.

— With assistance by Keith Zhai

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