China issues new regulations for Internet news

The Chinese government announced on Sunday a new set of regulations intended to tighten control over news reported on the Internet, but it was not immediately clear what, if any, effect the new regulations will have.

The regulations replace an earlier set of rules announced in 2000 and go into effect immediately, the official Xinhua News Agency reported on its Chinese-language Web site. The regulations were developed by China’s Ministry of Information Industry and the State Council, the country’s highest administrative body, it said.

Under the new regulations, Internet news sites are encouraged to report news that is “healthy” and promotes economic and social progress, Xinhua said. In addition, the Shanghai Daily newspaper reported that any news Web site that reports “false or distorted information” will be fined up to 30,000 renminbi (US$3,701) under the new guidelines.

What impact the new regulations will have was not immediately clear. The enforcement of government regulations is not always consistent, and can fluctuate depending on political priorities, observers said.

“It’s only in the implementation that the effect [of regulations like this] becomes clear,” said Duncan Clark, managing director of BDA China Ltd., a consulting company in Beijing.

Reading news is the second-most popular online activity in China, after e-mail, according to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), which tracks how Chinese Internet users spend their time online.

In a July survey, CNNIC reported that 79.3 percent of China’s 103 million Internet users read news online. By comparison, 57.2 percent of Chinese Internet users said they browsed online information other than news and 91.3 percent said they use e-mail.

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