China Shutters Entertainment News Sites, Citing ‘Socialist Values’ and Cybersecurity

A large number of entertainment news outlets on WeChat have been shut down. This notice from WeChat reads: This public account has been banned and content inaccessible. We've received complains that that this account has violated “Interim Provisions on the Administration of the Development of Public Information Services Provided through Instant Messaging Tools.” Image via the Initium, licensed for non-commercial use.

Major social media platform operators including Weibo, WeChat, Youku, Baidu and Netease shut down a large number of social media entertainment news outlets after a June 7 meeting with Beijing's Office of Cyberspace Affairs.

The crackdown has been justified under China's newly implemented Cybersecurity Law, which emphasizes ideological control as a core component of maintaining state security.

More than 60 outlets have been shuttered in less than a week, some of which are commercial news outlets funded by private capital investments, while others are entertainment sections of newspapers such as “Entertainment weekly of Southern Metropolis” (@南都娛樂週刊). Other examples include “Care about gossip association” (@关爱八卦成长协会), which has a market value of up to RMB 100 million (approximately US $15 million) and “Movie Lambaste” (@毒舌电影) with a market value of up to RMB 300 millions (approximately US $40 million dollars).

According to a report from state-run Xinhua news, Beijing's Office of Cyberspace Affairs cited China's Cybersecurity Law, enacted on June 1 2017, as impetus for the crackdown. They implored content platform operators to enforce the law:

任何个人和组织不得利用网络从事侵害他人名誉、隐私、知识产权和其他合法权益等活动,网络运营者应当加强对其用户发布的信息的管理,发现法律、行政法规禁止发布或者传输的信息的,应当立即停止传输该信息,采取消除等处置措施,防止信息扩散,保存有关记录,并向有关主管部门报告。

Individuals and organizations cannot infringe on other people’s reputation, privacy, intellectual properties and other rights using the Internet. Operators should reinforce the management of their users and the distribution of user content. Once [the operators] find that information has violated related laws and administrative rules, they have to stop transmitting the information, eliminate the sources and prevent the information from spreading. The record should be preserved and reported back to the authorities.

China’s Cybersecurity Law went into effect despite deep concerns about the powers that it gives to law enforcement to obtain sensitive information, including encryption keys, from network operators. The law has also triggered major concerns among foreign companies, over its requirement that local data be stored within China.

Thus far, local Chinese media outlets are the first groups to be affected by the law. Beginning on June 1, public social media accounts could not write or republish news reports without a permit, as stipulated by the Provisions for the Administration of Internet News Information Service.

This is not the first time entertainment news and information have been censored. The privately funded sector, though not politically sensitive and relatively free from the control of the authorities, has been a target of political campaigns.

Importantly, the Cybersecurity Law identifies ideology control as a significant part of state security. The Cyberspace Affair Office stressed that operators should manage the Internet by spreading “core values of socialism”:

极传播社会主义核心价值观,营造健康向上主流舆论环境,采取有效措施遏制渲染演艺明星绯闻隐私、炒作明星炫富享乐、低俗媚俗之风等问题。

proactively spread the core value of socialism, enhance a healthy mainstream public sphere, repress information that magnify celebrities’ privacy, luxurious lifestyle and vulgar behaviors.

A reader wrote to investigative journalism platform The Initium describing the series of crackdowns targeting online entertainment:

你說打擊盜版,所以字幕組沒了,下載電影的網站沒了,我們沒有了美劇日劇和公開課。
你說日本動畫教壞小孩,涉及黃暴,所以一大批動畫字幕組消失了。
你說某某某不愛國,支持台/港/藏/疆獨,所以我們要抵制他,所以我們下架他的音樂,他的電影,他的一切都要被封殺。
你說南韓架起飛彈對準我們,我們要抵制韓流抵制韓星,所以南韓的歐巴在祖國爸爸面前都去吃屎吧,祖國才是大本命。
你說境外出版品涉及意識形態問題,所以一大批海外的兒童書籍/繪本被禁,莫名其妙連淘寶上代購 PS4 的遊戲也成了違規的事。
現在你說這些娛樂號在炒作低俗追星議題,ok,那麼這些都封完了,我要去看什麼呢?難道看抗日神劇嗎?

When you said you had to crackdown on copyright right infringement, subtitling groups were disbanded and movie download platforms were shuttered. We could no longer learn English and Japanese through American and Japanese drama.

When you said Japanese animation were bad for kids, that they were violent and vulgar, a large number of subtitling groups were disbanded.

When you said this or that actor was not patriotic, that they supported Hong Kong / Taiwan / Tibet / Xinjiang independence, you called for a boycott. All their music and movies were banned.

When you said South Korea was aiming missiles [THAAD] at us, you asked us to boycott. All the Korean uncles [actors] had to eat shit in front of our fatherland.

When you said overseas publications had ideological problems, a large number of foreign children books and illustrations were banned. Buying PS4 video game via Taobao became illegal.

Now you say all these entertainment news outlets are vulgar. OK what else should we watch? Drama on Sino-Japanese War?

In the past, many believed that the driving force of censorship was mainly political and that people could enjoy “online freedom” as long as they refrained from commenting on current affairs. But the crackdown on entertainment news indicates that ideological struggle is not only directed against foreign enemies, but also at thoughts and activities seen to go against “socialist core values”.

Some netizens have been puzzled by the decision. The two netizens’ comments below are from letscorp.net, a blog that records hot topics on Chinese social media:

我一直以为娱乐八卦是用来转移关注某些重要事件视线的载体,以及迷幻人心、让有可能导致社会不稳定的人沉迷娱乐八卦,打发大部分无聊生活。居然也会封停?

I always thought that entertainment news was intended to divert attentions from important incidents, to intoxicate people’s minds so that those who could potentially bring trouble to society could kill time. How can that be banned.

Some see the ban as the real-life drama of George Orwell’s 1984:

1984动物庄园…“激烈的批评被消灭了,他们再来消灭温和的批评,等到温和的批评都没有的时候,他们就消灭那些保持独立不赞美的人了,到最后,如果鼓掌不起劲,都会被消灭了。”

1984 and Animal Farm… “Radical criticisms were eliminated, then they went after soft criticisms. Once soft criticisms were eliminated, they went after the independent ones who refused to praise them. In the end, if your claps are not loud enough, you will be eliminated.”

Similar comments have surfaced on Twitter. Grace Xiang said:

微博上一开始是不能谈论政治,后来是不能谈论法治,再后来不能谈论市场经济,现在连娱乐八卦也不能了。。。呵呵,以后大家只能一起颂圣了,多好,“东方红太阳升”,还有“没有你我不能活”,预备,唱。。。

On Weibo, at first people could not talk about politics, then they could not talk about rule of law, then they could not talk about market economy, now they could not even talk about entertainment… LOL in the future people could only sing their praise, “Sun rises, the East is red” and “I can’t live without you”, get ready, sing…

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