China Imposes New Rules on News Web Sites

By AUDRA ANG, Associated Press Writer

China is imposing new regulations to control content on its news Web sites, the government said Sunday, another step in its ongoing effort to police a rapidly expanding Internet population.

The rules, issued by the Ministry of Information Industry and the State Council, China's cabinet, will "standardize the management of news and information" in the country, the official Xinhua News Agency said. They take effect immediately, it said.

The report did not give any details on the regulations but said sites should only post news on current events and politics. It did not define what would be acceptable under those categories.

Only "healthy and civilized news and information that is beneficial to the improvement of the quality of the nation, beneficial to its economic development and conducive to social progress" will be allowed, Xinhua said.

It added: "The sites are prohibited from spreading news and information that goes against state security and public interest."

China's population of Internet users has surpassed 100 million and is the world's second largest after the United States, which has 135 million.

While the communist government encourages Internet use for education and business, it also keeps an extremely tight rein over online content, usually blocking material it deems subversive or pornographic. Online dissidents who post essays questioning government actions and policies or those who express their opinions in chatrooms are regularly arrested and charged under vaguely worded state security laws.

Earlier this month, a French media watchdog group said e-mail account information provided by Internet powerhouse Yahoo Inc. helped lead to the conviction and 10-year prison sentence of a Chinese journalist who had written about media restrictions in an e-mail.

Also as part of an ongoing effort to curb potential dissent, thousands of cybercafes -- the main entry to the Web for many Chinese unable to afford a computer or Internet access -- have been closed.

Authorities in Shanghai have installed surveillance cameras and begun requiring visitors to Internet cafes to register using their official identity cards to keep tabs on who's seeing and saying what online.

The government also recently threatened to shut down unregistered Web sites and blogs, online diaries in which users post their thoughts for others to read.

According to Xinhua, the previous set of rules governing Internet news was issued in 2000 and have become obsolete given the development of technology and China's rapidly growing online community.

The new rules will "satisfy the public demand for receiving news and information from the Internet as well as safeguard public interest," Xinhua said.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: I have been advised that since the situation with Yahoo about a month ago which led to the Chinese writer being sent to prison, Associated Press at least has begun giving their writers/reporters in China alias names when something appears in print. PAT]
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