Bloomberg News

China Communists Vow to Strengthen Management of Internet

October 26, 2011

(Updates with communique’s TV comments in 11th paragraph.)

Oct. 26 (Bloomberg) -- China’s ruling Communist Party said it will strengthen management of online social media sites that have increasingly questioned government actions and exposed official graft.

Vowing to promote the development of what it called a healthy Internet culture, the Central Committee said it will supervise the world’s biggest online community more closely, promote “constructive” websites and punish the spread of “harmful information,” according to a communique from its Oct. 15-18 meeting released overnight by the official Xinhua News Agency.

China’s leaders are grappling with the best way to manage Twitter-like social-media sites such as Sina Corp.’s Weibo service that are hard for government censors to control. Those efforts are part of a wider push by the party to reassert its influence over Chinese culture and society, including in television and the arts.

“People would be making a mistake to be rolling their eyes and dismissing this as empty talk,” Bill Bishop, a Beijing- based independent Internet analyst, said in a phone interview. “Clearly the regulatory risk for Chinese Internet stocks is increasing and has been increasing for the last couple of months.”

Codifying language on Internet control in an official party document is significant because it means tens of millions of party members across the country will focus on the issue, Bishop said.

Language Codified

Members of the party’s Politburo visited web companies after a deadly train crash in July. Web users criticized the government’s handling of the crash and spread commentary and photos of the accident at odds with the official line.

The communique said the party will “strengthen guidance and management over social networks and instant messaging tools, regulate online information distribution, and cultivate a civilized, rational Internet environment.”

The danger for companies is that increased government oversight of content at sites such as Sina’s Weibo or Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s QQ instant-messaging service may lead to fewer outspoken people using the platforms over time, “basically deadening the community,” Bishop said.

Tencent Down

Tencent rose 0.1 percent to HK$1775.10 in Hong Kong today after falling as much as 3.5 percent. Sina Corp. fell 4 percent to $88.73 in New York trading yesterday, and is up 29 percent so far this year.

Three spokespersons for Sina didn’t return an e-mail request for comment on the Communist Party’s communique.

The Central Committee’s communique also focused on television, with the Communist Party vowing to “promote more fine literary and artistic works” in fields such as television, movies and photography.

That coincided with an announcement last night that new limits would be imposed on the number of “overly entertaining and vulgar” reality and talent shows aired on television.

Starting next year, the nation’s 34 satellite channels must limit themselves to two such programs every week, according to a statement yesterday on China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television’s website.

The new rules are meant to “prevent the trend of overly entertaining and vulgar programs, and satisfy mass audience demand for various multi-level and high standard programs,’” the statement said. Channels should “start an ideology and morals-building program to promote Chinese traditional virtue and socialist core values,” it said.

90 Minutes

The reality and talent shows may only run for 90 minutes during the prime-time hours of 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Such shows must be replaced by culture and news-related programs, according to the statement. Channels controlled by state-run China Central Television will not face those limits.

“Having these statements in the plenum communique will secure a sense among officials that protecting Chinese culture from encroachment is now a directive to be and implemented, especially in terms of containing criticism in the social media,” Russel Leigh Moses, dean of academics at the Beijing Center for Chinese Studies, said in an e-mail.

Microblogging Millions

China had 195 million microbloggers at the end of June, a 209 percent increase from the end of 2010, Xinhua reported last month, citing the China Internet Network Information Center.

The Central Committee includes leaders such as President and Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and other members of the ruling Politburo as well as the heads of many government ministries, military leaders and the chairmen of China’s biggest state-run companies.

Documents from plenums are second only in importance to resolutions passed every five years by the Communist Party Congress, set to meet next year to pick a new generation of leaders, said Willy Wo-Lap Lam, an adjunct professor of Chinese history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

This resolution, which focuses on culture, gives the Communist Party a written record that can be used to justify its actions, Lam said in an e-mail.

“The CCP wants to be seen as a party that properly follows precedents, procedure and traditions,” Lam said. “So every time they detain a dissident or whack a website, they can quote from this Culture Resolution.”

--Michael Forsythe, with assistance from Penny Peng in Beijing. Editors: Nicholas Wadhams, John Brinsley

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Michael Forsythe in Beijing at mforsythe@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net


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