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The Never-ending Censorship of the Online News Media in China

With each week it is becoming more and more difficult to keep up with the news about China and another website or application being taken off the Chinese web.

by Eurgene Michaels

However, we should at least feel fortunate that on this side of the Great Firewall, it is not only much easier to access objective news but also to publish objective news.

The Chinese government is keeping busy with their task to clean out the domestic internet. From foreign websites that do not match the likings of the Party, to the damaging social media content and the creators of that content. Many of the less regulated corners of the internet that we appreciate for the freedom to express our thoughts are highly monitored and censored in China.

Not surprisingly, the censorship of the press and news media online has been rampant for quite a while too. Yet it is now affecting an increasing number of websites and platforms that are supposed to be informal.

An official state document (first released in 2005, updated in 2017) on administering the internet information services outlines several important requirements for online platforms that wish to provide online news and information to their visitors. These platforms include phone apps, discussion boards, blog and microblog platforms, official WeChat accounts, regular websites, live streaming sites, even messaging services. Basically, “anywhere” “anyone” could post “anything”. Specific, right?

The government requires these platforms to apply for an official state-provided license, which would grant them the capability to offer specific services outlined by the acquired permit type.

How censorship works in China

The first and most difficult to obtain is the permit for original news reporting (editing and publishing services). Only the publicly-owned (state-ownedorganizations can apply for this license, and, therefore, report on events happening in China. Any independent media organization is not able to do original news reporting without this permit, or for that matter, obtain it.

The second permit is for news aggregation platforms (forwarding and reposting). With this permit, the online sites are able to collect information from news media, which have already received the first license and share it on their site without changing anything about the material. Therefore, the platforms with this permit cannot write their own news and only use the officially-approved sources.

The last license is for information dissemination platforms, which includes places where the individual users can create and post their content. For example, WeChat official accounts, Jinri, Toutiao, or Weibo. In this case, the platforms themselves are directly in control of the contents published, not the government. Thus, if WeChat or Weibo comes across some damaging information or accounts that post anti-state type of content, they have full rights to delete the posts and the account.

Such constant monitoring of the public discourse online only creates a self-censorship culture among the netizens. They often have no other way but to turn to the foreign social media with the help of VPNs (such as NordVPN), create new meanings for the Chinese characters, even transmit sensitive articles via cryptocurrency.

Despite numerous local news media being constantly criticised by the government, various online content and keywords censored, or foreign media sites blocked, the Chinese netizens continue finding ways around the Firewall of China. The power of expression, as well as the freedom to express oneself, should never be taken for granted. Only through the public narrative changes can happen. However, if the state is unwilling to listen to its people, then what progress can we talk about?

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