China to outlaw all news outlets not funded by Communist Party

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Xi Jinping - Xinhua/JU PENG/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Xi Jinping - Xinhua/JU PENG/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

China could ban all news media not funded directly by the Communist Party under new rules that will likely further limit freedom of speech.

Beijing published a draft law stating that privately funded organisations "shall not engage in news-gathering, editing, and broadcasting".

Officials have not confirmed whether the new rules will apply to foreign news organisations operating in China, effectively making them illegal.

But the move nevertheless indicates that Beijing may be preparing to exercise even greater control over the news, much of which is already state-controlled, further shrinking the platform for public scrutiny.

The proposed new rules ban private media-related businesses as part of a "prohibited" list of industries.

'Very broad ban on everything relating to the news media'

"The 2021 list is a very broad ban on everything relating to the news media sector, while the 2020 list does allow non-public capital participation, subject to equity caps," said Henry Gao, an associate professor of law at Singapore Management University.

While it remains unclear if foreign news outlets like The Telegraph will be affected, local outlets are now likely to be facing an even more uncertain future.

Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post, owned by tech tycoon Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group, could potentially be impacted by the law.

It has been rumoured for years that Mr Ma, one of China's richest people, was under pressure from authorities to offload his media assets due to concern he wields competing influence against the party.

Restrictions have been tightening for years, and government censors routinely scrub the internet for anything deemed by officials to be "sensitive".

Beijing has always held a tight grip over news and information in China, and virtually all media organisations are state-run, falling directly under government purview. Party directives are issued to state media newsrooms, instructing how coverage should be executed, including which topics are allowed to be reported on.

But the rise of the internet gave way to new platforms and methods of disseminating information. Some of these outlets have long existed in a grey area.

'Love the Party, protect the Party'

The draft document, which is open for public comment for a week, comes at a time when China has introduced a series of new regulations cracking down on numerous industries, affecting everything from e-commerce to after-school tutoring.

In 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the newsrooms of state media outlets and demanded "absolute loyalty", instructing them to "love the Party, protect the Party, and closely align themselves with the Party leadership in thought, politics and action".

Independent journalists who publish content online that goes against the official narrative are regularly removed and detained by the authorities.

Journalists who sought to disseminate information from Wuhan at the start of the coronavirus pandemic - such as Chen Qiushi, Zhang Zhan and Fang Bin - all remain missing or continue to be held by Chinese authorities.

The Chinese government has also ramped up its threats against foreign news outlets, with the foreign ministry and state media attacking specific journalists and outlets – including The Telegraph – paving the way for harassment and attacks.

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