Xinhuanet.com, the online news provider of China’s official Xinhua News Agency, applied for an initial public offering in Shanghai, amid a domestic debate over media censorship.
The China Securities Regulatory Commission noted the application in a Jan. 4 posting on its website, without indicating the amount Xinhuanet intends to raise or how it will be used. An official who answered a call to Xinhuanet’s operations department in Beijing today declined to identify himself or to comment on the IPO plans.
People.cn Co., the online arm of the Communist Party-run People’s Daily newspaper, raised 1.4 billion yuan ($225 million) in an IPO last year as state-run media seek to reduce their financial burden on the central government. The offerings are unlikely to affect China’s control of the press, according to analyst Liu Shengjun, even after a group of lawyers and scholars called for a provincial propaganda head’s dismissal in a spat over media restrictions.
“For normal companies, if they go public they have to adjust management and operations to become more market driven, but for such state-owned media this is not the case,” said Liu, a deputy director at the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai. “They operate with a certain ideology and act as part of the nation’s governing mechanism.”
The scholars and lawyers earlier this month said that the top propaganda official in Guangdong province should step down over efforts to censor an editorial in the Southern Weekly. The newspaper’s article was changed after it called for expanded individual freedoms and more checks on government power.
The government Jan. 4 denied that it censors the press.
“There exists no system of censorship in China,” said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, when asked about the group’s open letter. “China’s government protects the freedom of the press under the law.”
Foreign companies such as Google Inc. (GOOG:US) have also sparred with the government over blocks on websites that contain pornography, gambling and content critical of the ruling Communist Party. Google’s YouTube video site is blocked in China, as are social media including Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc.
Google said in January 2010 it wouldn’t self-censor content for Chinese services, shuttered its local search page and redirected users to a Hong Kong site.
In June, Google introduced a feature to its website that notified users in China about search terms that might become targets of the country’s Internet censors and result in service disruptions.
That feature was disabled sometime between Dec. 5 and Dec. 8, according to GreatFire.org, a website that collects data about China’s so-called Great Firewall. Taj Meadows, a Google spokesman in Japan, confirmed that the feature has been disabled and declined to comment further.
Xinhuanet releases news items 24 hours a day in eight languages, including Chinese, English, Japanese and Tibetan. The company is “an important information organ of the central government, and an important platform for building up China’s online international communication capacity,” according to its website.
The business was founded in 1997 and began transforming itself from “a governmental cultural institution to an enterprise” in 2010, the website says. Xinhuanet Corp. was established in 2011.
Xinhua TV arm, CNC Holdings Ltd. (8356), started trading in Hong Kong by means of a reverse merger in February 2012. The stock has lost 48 percent since the transaction.
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