There can be no Internet freedom without order, the top Chinese Communist Party (CCP) newspaper said yesterday after several US television shows were pulled from Chinese video sites, the latest signs of Beijing’s tightening grip on online content.
The removal of the shows coincides with a broad crackdown on online freedom of expression that has intensified since Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) came to power last year and drawn criticism from rights advocates at home and abroad.
Chinese authorities last week also stepped up their battle against pornography, revoking some of the online publication licenses of one of China’s largest Internet firms, Sina Corp, for allowing “lewd and pornographic” content.
“While ordinary people and governments have enjoyed the conveniences brought by the Internet, they have also in turn experienced the Internet’s negative effects and hidden security dangers,” the People’s Daily, the party’s main mouthpiece, said in a commentary.
It was published under the pen name “Zhong Sheng” (中聲), meaning “Voice of China,” which is often used to give views on foreign policy.
“If you don’t have Internet order, how can you have Internet freedom? Anyone enjoying and exercising their Internet rights and freedoms must not harm the public interest and cannot violate laws and regulations and public ethics,” the paper said.
Four US television shows, The Big Bang Theory, The Practice, The Good Wife and NCIS, were removed from video Web sites over the weekend, Xinhua news agency said.
The series are all popular and it was not clear why these particular programs had been singled out.
Searches on Youku Tudou, Sohu and Tencent, which provide the shows, produced messages that the content was temporarily unavailable. None provided any immediate comment.
The removal of the shows followed a directive from the Chinese State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television last month that tightened the process for broadcasting television programs and short films online.
Programs and films lacking licenses are not permitted to be distributed online, according to the administration’s directive. Penalties include a warning and a fine and, in serious cases, a five-year ban on operations and investment in online programming.
However, there are no specific regulations governing overseas TV programs licensed by Chinese Web sites, one person who works at an online video site said, adding that regulation was expected at some point, albeit with a minor effect on the industry.
China’s online video market was worth 12.8 billion yuan (US$2.05 billion) last year, according to Chinese data firm iResearch. Market value is expected to almost triple by 2017.
The telecommunications watchdog has been in discussions with online video sites about greater control of their content since 2009, people familiar with the matter said.
China maintains tight control over the media. Censorship is widespread, and Internet users cannot access information about many topics without special software to circumvent restrictions.
Online video sites are extremely popular and at times act as a lodestone for comment on social issues. Users upload videos documenting alleged corruption, injustice and abuses attributed to Chinese government officials and authorities.
The CCP last year renewed a campaign on online interaction, threatening legal action against people whose perceived rumors on microblogs like Sina Weibo are reposted more than 500 times or seen by more than 5,000 people.