China: Authorities ban self-publishing by journalists and censor online content

China has tightened control over media workers with a new rule that bans journalists from self-publishing news via social media accounts. The Chinese cyberspace watchdog also amended its internet regulations to crack down on what it sees as fake news or harmful activities by public social media accounts. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) expresses grave concern over Beijing’s increasing grip on the press and stresses that a vibrant society in which citizens can express opinions freely is key to development and progress.

Passengers look at their phones whilst waiting at Hongqiao railway station in Shanghai on November 19, 2020. Credit: Hector Retamal / AFP

On January 19, China’s National Press and Publication Administration announced that the annual review of journalists’ accreditation would be conducted from January 20 to March 19. In particular, the authorities will look into whether journalists operate “we-media” on public social media accounts and publish information they acquire in the course of their work. Those who do not abide by the rules will risk being punished or even having their credential suspended. The vaguely defined new rule comes at a time when “self-media” has gained huge popularity in China and journalists have begun using such platforms to publish work which was axed by their organisations.

The campaign to curb online speech also targets public social media accounts, which can be created by businesses, celebrities or individuals, as well as by news organisations. On January 22, the Cyberspace Administration of China published amended rules to ban fabricating information, tagging false sources, misleading the public, and committing plagiarism, among other actions.

The cyberspace watchdog noted that during the COVID-19 outbreak, “a small number of ‘we-media’ accounts had fabricated and disseminated online rumours, as well as arbitrarily disclosing other people’s privacy”. The CAC said the behaviours “had seriously undermined social harmony and stability and left the interests of others marred”.

The revised rules, which take effect from February 22, will hold public accounts and social media companies accountable for problematic online activities. They are intended to “maintain a good communications order” and “preserve a healthy cyberspace,” the agency said.

The IFJ said: “The IFJ expresses grave concern over Beijing’s increasing grip on the press and stresses that a vibrant society in which citizens can express opinions freely is key to development and progress.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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