China's internet regulator this week ordered popular Chinese websites to stop publishing stories based on original reporting, marking the government's latest effort to consolidate its control over online media. As The New York Times reports, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) on Monday ordered the websites to "clean up" certain online features, saying in an edict that they were in "serious violation" of a 2005 internet regulation that restricts independent reporting.
The four sites implicated in the edict are owned by some of China's biggest internet companies, including Sina, Sohu, NetEase, and Phoenix. Citing Chinese state media, Reuters reports that the companies were slapped with administrative fines, and that several pages on the sites were shut down. In a statement posted late Monday, the CAC said that four other sites were also under investigation, including two owned by Baidu and Tencent, respectively.
A call to "love the party"
Chinese news sites have expanded their investigative reporting operations in recent years, flouting regulations that require news stories to be based on reports from official media. The sites fined this week had previously published reports on the arrest of a former government official's brother-in-law, and on a toxic chemical contamination at a school in Beijing.
The crackdown comes ahead of next year's meeting of the Communist Party Congress, and weeks after the head of the CAC, Lu Wei, unexpectedly stepped down from his position. Regarded as the country's "internet czar," Lu oversaw the introduction of several laws that tightened the government's controls over online news and social media. Lu was replaced by his former deputy, Xu Lin, who previously worked under President Xi Jinping.
During a February visit to three state-run media outlets, Xi called on the news organizations to "love the party, protect the party, and closely align themselves with the party leadership in thought, politics and action." The president's visit followed the announcement of new regulations that prohibit foreign-owned companies from publishing online content without government approval.