In May 2017, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) published a series of regulations on internet news media and content. These regulations include the Regulations on Administration of Internet News Information Service (News Regulations) together with the implementing rules, and the Regulations on Administrative Enforcement Procedures for Internet Information Content (Enforcement Regulations).

In addition, on 25 August 2017, the CAC released the Administrative Measures on Internet Forum Community Service and the Administrative Measures on Internet Comment (collectively, Internet Speech Regulations), which are targeted at user comments on online forums and other online platforms with comment functions enabled.

These regulations show the renewed efforts of the CAC in regulating content on the internet.

In this e-bulletin we highlight the key provisions of these regulations and set out our observations.

BACKGROUND

The previous version of the News Regulations was promulgated by the State Council Information Office in 2005 (2005 Version). In August 2014, the State Council granted the CAC power to regulate information and content on the internet. In April 2015, the CAC became responsible for approving and filing details of internet news media and approving the establishment of foreign financial information providers.

HIGHLIGHTS OF KEY PROVISIONS

I. Broadened scope of “internet news information service”

The News Regulations define the scope of “internet news information service” in a way which encompasses different types of service functions provided by internet news providers (Internet News Providers) in respect of internet news information, namely (i) collecting, editing and publishing services, (ii) reproduction services, and (iii) dissemination platform services. This is much more comprehensive in scope than in the 2005 Version, which was defined by reference to the media channels available for disseminating internet news at that time, mainly websites, bulletin board systems (BBS) and text messages.

The News Regulations further clarify the scope by setting out the internet news media channels that have gained popularity since the publication of the 2005 Version, such as websites, mobile apps, online forums, blogs, micro blogs, WeChat official accounts, instant messengers and live broadcasting.

Internet news information services defined in the News Regulations now covers almost all forms of news publication services on the internet and demonstrates the CAC’s determination to adapt the News Regulations to match internet developments.

II. A uniform licensing regime

The 2005 Version operated an approval and filing regime for different types of Internet News Providers. However, the News Regulations require all Internet News Providers to be licensed by the CAC or its local counterparts.

Under the News Regulations, an Internet News Provider will be required to apply for a specific license applicable to the type of news media service it performs (i.e. news collecting, editing and publishing services, reproduction services or dissemination platform services), irrespective of the media channels.

III. State media

Internet news collecting, editing and publishing services are reserved for State media (or its controlled subsidiaries) and news media controlled by the Party news department. Private investment is expressly prohibited in news collecting and editing services.

For internet news reproduction services and dissemination platform services, private investment is permitted, provided that certain requirements on staffing, management, funding, premises and security measures are satisfied. For instance, the editor-in-chief must be a Chinese citizen whose details are filed with the CAC. Foreign investment is prohibited in all forms of internet news services.

The News Regulations also provide that the Government may have a “special management share” in certain Internet News Providers. The CAC does not elaborate on the meaning of the special management share. It is understood that the Government could use any special management share in a Internet News Provider to retain its control over certain issues. It is not clear whether the special management share regime would apply to all types of Internet News Providers, including those which are privately-owned. The CAC will separately formulate rules to implement the “special management share” regime.

It is not the first time that the “special management share” has been referred to in internet-related regulations. In the regulations promulgated by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) in 2016 (click here for more details), internet operators providing online publishing services are subject to a “special management share” regime. However, the implementation has been slow.

IV. Control on content

News Regulations

All Internet News Providers are required to review and self-censor the content published by them and to take measures to cease transmission and remove content if inappropriate content is discovered, as well as maintain relevant records and report matters to the competent regulators. In addition, any new technologies, functions or applications adopted by Internet News Providers relating to news media which are capable of “mobilizing the public” must be subject to a security assessment by the CAC.

For news reproduction services, the Internet News Providers are prohibited from reproducing any news that is not published by the State news media. The source of news must be trackable.

For news dissemination platform services, the Internet News Providers must obtain true identity information from users and require users to enter into contracts before providing any service. Where users are allowed to open official or public accounts, the Internet News Providers must examine the account information, service qualifications and scope of services and file such information with the local office of the CAC.

Internet Speech Regulations

Similarly, providers of internet forum community services and providers of comment functions (collectively, Speech Function Providers) are also required to obtain and verify the identity information of users and enter into service agreements with them.

Speech Function Providers must monitor the posts and comments, take action and report to the CAC where prohibited information is discovered to have been published. In such circumstances, Speech Function Providers are required to take a number of steps included to cease transmission of the content, delete content or comments, restrict the comment function, close user accounts or sub-forums and revoke administrator powers (in case of a forum). For news-related comment functions, the comments must be censored before being published. Speech Function Providers are also required to set up a complaints procedure in relation to posts and comments.

The Speech Function Providers are also prohibited from manipulating posts and comments for illegitimate interest or to mislead public opinion.

Providers of comment functions are further required to establish a credit rating system for their users and provide different functionality to users with different ratings. Users with an extremely negative credit rating will be blacklisted and banned from continued use of the comment functions. The CAC will also establish a credit rating system for the providers of comments functions though regular credit evaluation, record keeping and a black list.

V. Enforcement procedures established

The Enforcement Regulations set out the procedural and administrative processes for the CAC to enforce the laws and regulations relating to internet content covering not only the News Regulations but also regulations published by other regulators on online videos, audio, games, etc. The Enforcement Regulations lay the legal grounds for the CAC to police the internet for breach of laws and regulations on internet content.

OUR OBERSERVATIONS

The News Regulations significantly strengthen the CAC’s control over internet content. On the one hand, the News Regulations broaden the scope of internet news services to keep pace with developments in internet media and to cater for future technologies. On the other hand, they tighten control on the source of news by permitting only State-controlled media to produce news information for dissemination by other Internet News Providers in China. Further, the “special management share” regime enables the State to control the operation of privately-owned Internet News Providers.

The obligations of Internet News Providers to obtain user identification information and to enter into contracts with users will bring the activities of users under the scrutiny of the Internet News Providers for self-censorship purposes.

The publication of Enforcement Regulations has removed any legislative obstacles for the CAC to actively enforce laws and regulations on internet content.

We also note that both the News Regulations and the Enforcement Regulations cite the Cyber Security Law (CSL) as their legal authority. It seems that the CSL covers not only physical security of networks but also the “security” of news and information published and transmitted on networks.

The Internet Speech Regulations impose express obligations on Speech Function Providers to monitor and censor user content and to take active steps to deal with prohibited information published on the relevant platform. This will no doubt increase the compliance burden for Speech Function Providers and strengthen the control of the Government on public opinion.