(Reuters) – China will intensify controls of online social media and instant messaging tools, the ruling Communist Party said in an agenda-setting document that marks the government’s highest-level reaction so far to the explosive growth of microblogs.
Beijing’s vow to strengthen Internet administration and promote content acceptable to the ruling party appeared in the communique of a recent party leadership conclave published in the official People’s Daily on Wednesday.
The crackdown also follows popular uprisings across the Middle East that appear to have given China’s leaders pause regarding their own hold on absolute power. In the view of some, it also tracks the influence in China’s ruling hierarchy of hard-liners like Zhou Yongkang, the public security chief who helped preside over the suppression of riots by ethnic Uighurs in western China’s Xinjiang region.
The most striking instance occurred on Tuesday, when the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television ordered 34 major regional television stations to limit themselves to no more than two 90-minute entertainment shows each per week, and collectively 10 nation-wide. They are also being ordered to broadcast two hours of state-approved news every evening and to disregard audience ratings in their programming decisions. The ministry said the measures, to go into effect on January 1, were aimed at rooting out "excessive entertainment and vulgar tendencies."
The restrictions arrived as party leaders signaled new curbs on China’s short-message, Twitter-like microblogs, an Internet sensation that has mushroomed in less than two years into a major – and difficult to control – source of whistle-blowing. Microbloggers, some of whom have attracted millions of followers, have been exposing scandals and official malfeasance, including an attempted cover-up of a recent high-speed rail accident, with astonishing speed and popularity.
On Wednesday, the Communist Party’s Central Committee called in a report on its annual meeting for an "Internet management system" that would strictly regulate social network and instant-message systems and punish those who spread "harmful information."
The focus of the meeting, held this month, was on culture and ideology. Analysts and employees inside the private companies that manage the microblogs say party officials are pressing for increasingly strict and swift censorship of unapproved opinions. Perhaps most telling, the authorities are discussing requiring microbloggers to register accounts with their real names and identification numbers instead of the anonymous handles now in wide use.