Beijing imposes new ‘political tone’ rules for online streamers

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  • Latest rules called for online anchors, including hosts ‘powered by AI technology’ to ‘maintain the right tone in political orientation, public communication … and actively embody core socialist values’
  • The regulations come after one of China’s top online influencers was taken offline after streaming footage of a cake shaped like a tank just before the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown
Agence France-Presse |
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Live-streamed broadcasts have grown increasingly popular in China in recent years. Photo: Reuters

New rules for livestreamers demand they hit the “right tone” when it comes to politics, Chinese authorities said Wednesday, in the latest sign of a tightening in the country’s massive online entertainment sector.

The rules come after one of China’s top online hosts was apparently cut mid-broadcast after streaming footage of a cake shaped like a tank just before the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Official news agency Xinhua said new protocols called for online anchors to “maintain the right tone in political orientation, public communication … and actively embody core socialist values”. The rules also apply to hosts “powered by AI technology”, Xinhua said.

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Live-streamed broadcasts have grown increasingly popular in China in recent years, but Beijing has sought to tighten the reins on the sector while also cracking down on the excesses of wealthy celebrities.

Authorities have previously criticised “money worship” and “vulgar” content. The instant nature of live-stream shows can create challenges for the massive censorship machine that regulates China’s internet inside the “Great Firewall”.

Li Jiaqi – a household name in China whose shows regularly draw millions of viewers – had his broadcast abruptly cut earlier this month, when he appeared to present an ice cream cake that looked like a tank just hours before the Tiananmen anniversary.

Known as China’s “Lipstick King”, Li has more than 64 million fans on Douyin, China’s version of TikTok, where he usually live-streams his recommended beauty products. Photo: Youku

Nothing has been posted by the online star since that show, while some search results for his name were censored.

Discussion of the crackdown on June 4, 1989, when China set troops and tanks on peaceful protesters, is all but forbidden in the country.

The new online protocols also call for streamers in areas such as health, finance, law and education to obtain “professional qualifications” before making broadcasts.

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There would be a “range of penalties” for those who violate the protocols, Xinhua said, without expanding further.

The tightening coincides with the launch of President Xi Jinping’s “common prosperity” drive to reduce economic inequality, partly by reining in excessive incomes in the entertainment and technology sectors.

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