Xinhua tightens controls on news
Josephine Ma in Beijing
Foreign agencies and their clients face tougher censorship
Foreign news agencies and their mainland clients have become the latest targets of a campaign by authorities to increase controls over the media.
Xinhua yesterday published rules tightening the grip on foreign news media operating on the mainland and setting out penalties for violations of the restrictions, including the cancellation of an agency's right to release news and information on the mainland.
Xinhua has long acted as an administrator for foreign news services seeking subscribers on the mainland, but the agency said an increasing number of clients such as banking and financial institutions, multinationals and even mainland websites and media were subscribing to foreign services without going through Xinhua.
Yesterday's circular is clearly aimed at these mainland clients and threatens administrative penalties if they are found subscribing to services without authorisation.
Foreign agencies wanting to sell news to mainland clients are required to heavily censor their content and to be subject to Xinhua scrutiny.
'Foreign news agencies shall not directly solicit subscriptions to their news and information services in China,' it said. 'Xinhua News Agency has the right to select the news and information released by foreign news agencies in China and shall delete any [prohibited] materials.
'If a foreign news agency violates the measures, for example, Xinhua News Agency shall give it a warning, demand rectification within a required time limit, suspend the release of specified content, or suspend or cancel its qualification for releasing news and information in China.'
The regulations include a long list of content that cannot be disseminated on the mainland, including news that disrupts 'China's economic and social order and undermines China's social stability', as well as reports that undermine the country's 'national unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity'.
It remains unclear how the authorities will interpret these vague terms, which may affect wire agencies even if they restrict their content to economic news.
Other banned news includes information that might 'endanger China's national security, reputation and interests', that which might 'violate China's religious policies or preach evil cults or superstitions' and that which might 'incite hatred and discrimination among ethnic groups' or 'undermine their unity'.
The regulations also clarify grey areas and make it almost impossible for foreign news agencies to enter the market unless they subject themselves to censors.
Effective immediately, the rules cover text, photographs, graphics and other forms of news.
Penalties for mainland clients and media are tougher, with those who release or translate reports by foreign agencies without authorisation facing administrative penalties.
The rules also apply to Hong Kong and Macau news agencies which operate on the mainland.