On the 18th, the General Administration of Press and Publications issued three draft regulations: the Internet Publishing Services Regulations, the Management Rules for Foreign News Publishing Organs Establishing Offices Within the Territory of China and the Press and Publications Sector Standards Management Rules. These three are offered for consultation, with a deadline to submit comments by 10 January.
These three documents will have a significant impact on the future business of most, if not all, domestic and foreign online media. In the first document, the definition of “network publication” is so broad as to include nearly all online content:
[…] digital works that are . provided to the public through information networks, that have been produced, compiled and processed, the scope mainly includes:
(1) written, photographic, picture, game, cartoon or video reading materials in literary, artistic, scientific or other fields that have knowledge content and ideological content and other originally-created digital works;
(2) digitized versions of already published books, newspapers, periodicals, audiovisual works, electronic publications with identical content;
(3) digital works that are formed by translating, arranging or compilation of the abovementioned works and other methods;
(4) other categories of digital works determined by the General Administration of Press and Publications
Comments could be made about the fact that these documents are released on what will be for many foreigners, the last work day before Christmas, especially given that China has released important media regulation during the holiday period repeatedly in the past. I have translated the first document, and will endeavour to upload the other two documents as soon as possible.
While I haven’t yet had the time to look at the matter in depth, there are a number of interesting and potentially problematic provisions in the new Network Publishing Regulations. Some of these may amount to a WTO violation, but given that China excluded most telecommunications and cultural services from its WTO schedule, in many cases, it will be hard to establish prima facie inconsistency directly. In general, however, these documents conform to the trends that had been developing already before the 18th Party Congress, with a stronger focus on cultural management and Internet control. It is also not strange that this occurs at the same time that the Propaganda Department is ordering media outlets to print articles on Internet-related crime, there are repeated reports that VPNs come under increasing attack, and China’s strong position at the recent Internet management conference.
So concretely speaking, what do the draft regulations on Internet publishing contain?
First, they impose a national obligation: the legal representative of network publishing companies must be a Chinese citizen, the servers on which the services are run must be physically on Chinese territory, and Sino-foreign joint-venture or foreign-invested enterprises are barred from engaging in network publishing.
Second, they impose the three-evaluation management system that has been in force in the traditional publishing sector for decades. This means that editors and proofreaders must check publications in three steps, with personal responsibility if illegal content is still published.
Third, the Regulations call for a sector association under the leadership of the GAPP, to develop a sector self-discipline structure. Such sector associations are also under the command of the Central Propaganda Department, and the self-discipline conventions that earlier associations have published demonstrate that very often, they are a parallel way of imposing State control on publishing activities.
Fourth, personnel within Internet publishing business must have certain professional qualifications, further expanding the linkage to the Party-State.
Fifth, network publishers become subject to annual assessment requirements, which may result in a loss of licence. At the same time, the State announces support for publications that support its agenda.
There are obviously many more takes on this document, and I’ll come back on them after the holidays.