Government Regulators Block Foreign Access to China's Media Market

October 1, 2005

Chinese government regulators blocked Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.'s plan to operate a television channel in China, according to an August 30 New York Times report (registration required). According to the Times, News Corp. had been distributing the National Geographic Channel, a music channel, and other programming to local cable television companies without government permission. The government's action coincides with its recent promulgation of several regulations that limit foreign access to China's media industry:

Chinese government regulators blocked Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.'s plan to operate a television channel in China, according to an August 30 New York Times report (registration required). According to the Times, News Corp. had been distributing the National Geographic Channel, a music channel, and other programming to local cable television companies without government permission. The government's action coincides with its recent promulgation of several regulations that limit foreign access to China's media industry:

Under WTO rules, a WTO member can only enforce published trade-related measures. The Chinese government has not published the Opinions and the Measures. When it acceded to the WTO, China specifically committed to publish all trade-related measures for comment before promulgation. The government did not publish any of the measures listed above before promulgation.

See below for additional analysis.

Adoption of these measures appears to be part of a larger government policy to protect China's domestic media industry from foreign competition. For example:

  • In March 2005, and coinciding with the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television's increasing restrictions on foreign participation in China's domestic television and film production, the People's Daily Web site reprinted an article by a Chinese media scholar expressing concern about how Chinese news media can compete in a global marketplace:

    While foreign media are entering China with the pursuit of profit as their primary motivation, Chinese [media] are entering foreign [markets] primarily to establish a propaganda presence, and become a state-owned propaganda agency. However, our experience with marketized operations of television stations and our actual strength is still insufficient to become State propaganda organs, and at the very least they are insufficiently specialized.

  • In July 2005, when Chinese authorities launched a crackdown on foreign periodicals being published and distributed in China without government permission, they issued a notice saying:

    News offices at all levels must cooperate with press and publication administrations in their local jurisdictions, and be guided by foreigners living in China as their target readership, go through approved newspaper and magazine publishing units, strictly obey the country's relevant laws and regulations, deeply understand and analyze the reading habits and needs of readers, and enable the newspapers and periodicals that they publish to have greater focus, utility, timeliness, and readability, in order to do their best to satisfy the newspaper and magazine reading demands of foreigners residing in China.

  • The General Administration of Press and Publication banned dozens of foreign video games in January 2005, and one week after SARFT issued the Notice Regarding the Prohibition on Broadcasting Television Programs About Computer and Internet Games in July 2005, the People's Daily reported (in Chinese) that the GAPP had announced plans to invest 15 billion yuan to promote the creation of 100 government-developed computer games over the next five years.

The government's primary reason for enacting these regulations is to limit public access to foreign sources of information. In late 2004 and early 2005, Chinese authorities voiced concerns that in recent years the Communist Party has been losing the monopoly it held since 1949 over what Chinese citizens view, read, and listen to - what they refer to as the "ideological domain." These regulations are a response to those concerns. For Example:

  • In September 2004, Liu Yunshan, member of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, secretary of the Secretariat, and director of the Central Propaganda Department gave a speech at the National Propaganda Directors Seminar setting forth the Party's propaganda priorities for the upcoming year:

    In order to consolidate the guiding position of Marxism, it is necessary to ensure the leadership of the Party in ideological work. . . No matter what changes occur in the situation or the environment, there can be no change in the Party's control over ideology. It is necessary to insist on the principle that the Party controls the cadres, to strengthen the building of the leadership ranks in ideological agencies and work units, and to grasp the work and leadership of news publishing, radio and television, and the cultural arts and philosophical and social sciences firmly within the hands of those loyal to Marxism. It is necessary to establish an awareness that this is a battlefield, and that people have a responsibility for defending this territory. The thought and culture battlefield is the primary vehicle and dissemination channel of ideology, and if Marxist thought does not occupy it, then all kinds of non-Marxist, and even anti-Marxist, thought will occupy it. . . It is necessary to insist on prosperity on the one hand, and control on the other, to promote prosperity through control, and absolutely refuse to give incorrect thoughts or viewpoints any channel for dissemination.
    . . . .
    To strengthen and improve news propaganda, it is necessary to insist on the principle that the Party supervises the media. At no time and under no circumstances shall the nature of the news media as the mouthpieces of the Party and the people be allowed to change, the policy that the Party supervises the media shall not be allowed to change, and the correct guidance of public opinion shall not be allowed to change.

    For there to be correct guidance of social public opinion, it is necessary to place a high degree of emphasis on the influence the Internet and other new forms media have on social public opinion, and to actively seize the high ground of the domain of propagandizing public opinion. . . Taking the initiative in capturing this new ideological work battlefield of the Internet and seizing the high ground of propagandizing public opinion is an imperative requirement in grasping the initiative in propaganda ideology work and an important aspect of increasing the Party's ability to govern. . . It is necessary to clarify responsibility for Internet supervision, and form an effective guard against the dissemination of harmful information, and promote long term effective working mechanisms for the healthy development of the Internet.

  • In September and October 2004, the Party Central Committee and the State Council jointly issued several documents that in later months would serve as the policy basis for restricting Chinese citizen's access outside information on the Internet in general, and on university Internet forums in particular:
    • "Opinion Regarding Further Strengthening and Improving the Ideological and Political Education of College Students" (also referred to as "Document Number 16"). Official sources reported that the Opinion said that "Strengthening and improving the political thought education of university students is an exceedingly pressing and important duty," and called on universities to "take the initiative in capturing the new battlefield of ideological and political education on the Internet.
    • "Regarding the Current Situation of Ideological Theory Domains and Working Measures that Need to Be Adopted" (also referred to as "Document Number 29"). An official with the GAPP said the Party issued this document to increase pre-publication screening of the ideological orientation of books, newspapers, and magazines.
    • "Opinion Regarding Further Strengthening Internet Administration Work" (also referred to as "Document Number 32"). According to government sources, this document called for increased Party and government administration of the Internet in order to "strengthen of the Party's ability to govern," and called on authorities to "increase online monitoring, observation, critique, and appraisal work," and "uncover problems in a timely manner, correct them in a timely manner, and refute and clarify rumors, gossip, and incorrect discussions.
  • In October 2004, Liu Binjie, deputy director of the GAPP, gave a speech saying:

    Regardless of how we go about reforming or what organization system we implement, we cannot allow any change in the correct guidance of public opinion. This relates to the problem of strengthening Marxist ideology, and it relates to the problem of ensuring the dominant position of Marxist ideology, it relates to the problem of disseminating the Party's primary ideology. What we must first allow for is that we must insist that the Party's primary media remain state owned.

  • In November 2004, an official with the GAPP delivered a report saying that "[e]nemy forces are using the Internet and other new communication media methods to carry out ideological infiltration," and that the government and the Party must adopt measures to stop "noise and static in the ideological domain."
  • In December 2004, the People's Daily reprinted an article from the Wenhui Bao saying that the Internet "is not only a mass medium, but also is an ideological and public opinion battlefield," and calling on Chinese authorities to use the law to silence speech that "provokes trouble," or "confuses public opinion," and "improve the technology and techniques for guiding public opinion." It also said the government controlled media should strive to be the first to deliver information in order to "undercut the enemy and guide public opinion."
  • Also in December 2004, the People's Daily published its own opinion piece saying:

    Just as we have taken the initiative to emphasize that the work of newspapers, television, and radio must have a firm grasp on propaganda ideology work, we must also build up the emphasis on Internet public opinion propaganda . . . In recent years the Internet has been a battlefield for the Communist Party's propaganda ideology work . . . Both at home and abroad there are hostile influences and people with ulterior motives who are using the Internet to make us "divided" and "westernized." They disseminate fake information, spread reactionary speech, and even employ Internet writers to write about socially hot topics and sensitive news to fool Internet users and misguide public opinion. If we do not move to capture the ideological battlefield, others will occupy it. . . . Relevant agencies should strengthen management of the Internet and form an inter-connected, extremely efficient management of the Internet.

  • Also in December 2004, the Sichuan division of China's Sweep Away Pornography and Strike Down Illegal Publications Task Force published a report saying:

    Throughout the history of the process of building socialism with Chinese characteristics, international and domestic hostile forces have incessantly used publications to carry out political and cultural infiltration of our country, attempting to create ideological chaos, disrupting our country's political quietude and social stability, and thereby achieve their political scheme of westernization and division.

  • In January 2005, a Party official at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences gave a report that discussed "the central authorities' problems regarding the need to emphasize and strengthen the Party's leadership of ideology work, and realistically consolidate the guiding position of Marxism in the ideological domain." The report said the Internet posed a new challenge to the Party's leadership, and justified recent Party policy statements calling for increased censorship as necessary to counteract threats posed by "Western enemy forces."
  • Also in January 2005, an official from the provincial Communist Party Propaganda Department of Shanxi province told a "news work meeting," that no type of news media could be allowed to "have a different standard, or form a second public opinion forum." He also said that the news media must not be allowed to "raise difficulties, air opposing views, or interfere with themes," and that a need exists to increase oversight of freelance writers, stringers, and private organizations that provide photographs and articles.
  • Also in January 2005, Liu Yuzhu, head of the Ministry of Culture's Market Department, wrote in Seeking Truth: "Western countries, headed by the United States, have occupied an advantageous position with respect to the spread of the Internet, and they dump on China massive amounts of information of all kinds, including their political models, value systems, and lifestyles, in order to oppose and edge out socialist values."