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China has all but outlawed citizen journalism

(TibetanReview.net, Feb06’21) – China’s internet regulators have announced a crackdown on citizen journalism around the country, banning anyone from posting news-related information online without a license, reported the Mandarin Service of rfa.org Feb 2.

The report said the move was announced by Zhuang Rongwen, deputy director of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s central propaganda department during a Jan 29 online conference on promoting “orderly communications” on all online platforms.

A statement announcing the ban was stated to be posted by the Cyberspace Administration on its official website.

“We must control the source of online texts, and resolutely close any loopholes,” Zhuang was quoted as telling the conference. “The standardized management of citizen journalism should be a priority, with increased punishments for offenders and actual teeth for regulators.”

The report said that changes to media regulations three years ago required any organization publishing news or current affairs-related content to hold a license from the country’s media regulator, with the focus on citizen journalism extending the full implementation of that rule to include both regular citizens and journalists posting on their private accounts to evade censorship.

The report noted that the move came months after authorities detained and jailed a number of people for reporting unofficially on the unfolding of the coronavirus pandemic in the central city of Wuhan in the early months of 2020.

The report cited independent scholar Fang Liang as saying the latest move was aimed at ensuring that “the general public will only be able to access a one-way flow of information from official channels.”

Social media users have told RFA that all WeChat official accounts had been recently warned by Tencent not to publish any real-time news or information that hadn’t been through an official approval process.

Sohu and Baijia were also stated to have issued similar notices to users in recent days, banning accounts with no news publishing license from posting on news or current affairs.

A pastor in a Protestant church in the eastern port city of Qingdao has told RFA that the authorities weren’t only concerned with news. “I have heard that they will comprehensively rectify citizen journalism, current affairs, politics, commentary, and also religious content,” the pastor has said, giving the pseudonym John.

“The government is clamping down on citizen journalism, which will quash freedom of speech even more than before, and mean that the voices of the least privileged people in our society won’t be heard any more,” he has said.

There is already a long list of citizen journalist that China has jailed for “posting false information”, including on overseas social media platforms Twitter and YouTube, and for giving interviews to foreign news organizations.

Any posting not approved by the government is deemed to be a criminal offence.

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