Crackdown on rogue weather forecasts
Nailene Chou Wiest in Beijing
State reasserts its hold on the potentially lucrative 'meteorological economy'
The central government is clamping down on unauthorised use of weather forecasts to prevent public panic and to reassert its monopoly in the sector.
The measure stems from alarm caused by reports during last year's Sars outbreak.
Media experts familiar with the crackdown said the meteorological administration had also long coveted the potentially lucrative market for providing weather forecasts.
The China Meteorological Administration has unveiled a set of regulations governing weather information. Under the rules, which took effect on February 1, only designated broadcasters and newspapers can distribute weather forecasts.
Other media organisations must sign agreements with local meteorological bureaus for the rights to deliver the information.
The restrictions are based on a heightened awareness of ownership.
'Weather forecasting is the outcome of meteorological science and technology, and the organisation that generates the information holds the distribution rights,' the administration said.
Violators are subject to a fine of up to 10,000 yuan.
The restrictions date from the Sars outbreak last year, when alarm spread on fears that changes in the weather would trigger more cases.
A draft of the regulations was circulated among legal experts for comments last autumn, the media sources said.
The idea of a 'meteorological economy' has taken hold as market research links weather changes and sales of consumer goods such as beer, air conditioners, cold remedies and ice cream.
Air travel and the futures market in agricultural products are also highly influenced by weather forecasts.
The telephone weather forecasting service is gaining popularity on the mainland. In Guangzhou, 20,000 weather inquiries are received every day - a figure that sometimes doubles at key times. Subscription to the meteorological service is expanding among the 6 million short-messaging users of cell phones.
Sensitivity to information that could destabilise society usually arises at times when major events are staged, such as the annual conference of the National People's Congress, or visits by foreign leaders. The NPC annual conference is scheduled to start on March 5.
A circular signed by the ministries of public security, education, information and technology and the Information Office of the State Council has meanwhile announced a campaign against electronic junk mail.
The controls are aimed at cracking down on subversive, pornographic and gambling material, as well as stemming the spread of computer viruses.