China cracks down on independent news websites

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 August, 2013, 1:05pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 August, 2013, 2:05pm

More than 100 privately-run news websites have been shut down in China since May in what the government calls a move against extortionists, but what critics say is a campaign against citizen journalists.

The State Council's National Internet Information Office has closed 107 informal news websites and portals since May 9, according to a list obtained by the Beijing News.

Websites included The Voice of the People, Democratic Legal Supervision Net, Chinese Citizen News, Justice Online and similarly-named provincial websites.

Some government officials have spoken out defending the move. According to Ren Zhanzhou, a spokesman for Sanmenxia in Henan province, these websites have either not fulfilled registration requirements, are "fake news organisations" or have "fabricated or collected negative news to extort companies".

Last year, independent blogger Zhu Ruifeng exposed a real estate developers' honey-traps on a dozen Chongqing government officials on such a privately-run news website, People's Supervision, which he had been running since 2006.

On July 17, censors took down his news website and disabled his microblog accounts. Zhu's writings have taken a "summer holiday", Zhan Jiang, a prominent professor of journalism at Beijing Foreign Studies University and acquaintance of Zhu, wrote in a microblog post.

People's Supervision is not mentioned in the list of shut-down websites released by the National Internet Information Office.

"Some of these people use these websites' names, but that doesn't mean they are doing things journalists do," said Wen Yunchao, an independent internet commentator.

The move is "complementary to real-name registration" online and has started around the end of April, he said. "It does affect the space given to debate on the internet."

For Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based researcher with Human Rights Watch, the crackdown contradicts President Xi Jinping's vow to "always listen to the voice of the people", when he assumed office in March. 

Many of these websites, she said "provide opportunities for ordinary people to voice their grievances and to blow the whistle on official misconduct and corruption".