Decade retrospective - Research of legal method of carrying news on internet websites

By Chen Hua
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, September 22, 2016
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Chinese internet websites began to carry news in 2000. Today, with rapid development and increasing number of web users, the internet has become a significant news-transmission platform, and a new form of social existence and evolution of social civilization in China. Reviewing legal practice in internet news services is helpful for the legal construction of the press sector, and will also help form the socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics.

Wang Zhidong, former CEO of, recalls the day when the website gained government approval in the following words. "When we got the certificate, a director of the Beijing Municipal Information Office insisted I come and talk with him in person. He told me earnestly that it was the first time the Communist Party of China (CPC) had given the right of public opinion to a privately-operated organization. He asked me to value it. " The document to which he refers was the Certificate of News Publication on Internet Websites.

What deeply impressed Wang were the Temporary Regulations on Internet News Publication, issued jointly by the Information Office under the State Council and the Ministry of Information Industry on Nov. 7, 2000 (hereinafter referred to as "Temporary Regulations"), which launched China's legal administration over internet-based media. On Sep. 25, 2005, the aforementioned temporary regulations were replaced by the Administrative Regulations on Internet News Services (hereinafter referred to as "Administrative Regulations"). Websites carrying news were defined as ones providing "internet news and information services" based on an Internet News and Information Service Permit.

With the internet being a channel for transmission of significant news, entertainment, instant messaging, technological application and commercial business platform, how to build a suitable legal administrative structure became a special topic for China in its process of building a socialist country under the rule of law.

I. Following the Basic Principle of the Rule of Law

In the decade between 1997 and 2007, during which the rule of law under the CPC's leadership was stressed time and again in CPC Party Congress reports, the concept of administering China's internet went through five stages:

"Give active support, promote development, provide macro instruction and emphasize management by specialized departments". This basic principle was set forth in a document by the State Council Information Office in March 1997. In 1998, a supplementary document was issued, allowing news and media organizations, when given permission, to apply to operate an independent domain with links to the website of the State Council Information Office.

"Develop actively, strengthen management, benefit from advantages while avoiding bad aspects and make it useful for China". This was the basic principle for information networking set forth by then President Jiang Zemin on July 11, 2001. He also hoped to apply the new information and network technologies to China's economic, social, scientific and technological, national defense, educational, cultural and legal sectors.

"Regulate through laws, exercise industrial supervision and self- discipline and provide technical support". This statement was made in a CPC document on Sept. 19, 2004. In November, another document was issued, promoting the establishment of a management mechanism for exercising this principle.

"Administrate by law, exercise industrial self-discipline and social supervision, and regulate with order". At the group study of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee on Jan. 23, 2007, Hu Jintao, CPC General Secretary at that time, spelled this out to promote internet news broadcasting order and safeguard national cultural information safety. In June of that year, a document was issued by the CPC Central Committee and the State Council stressing to increase input to accelerate development of the internet, which should be regulated based on its development in line with China's national conditions.

"Make active use, develop scientifically under the rule of law and guarantee safety". This was the Chinese government's basic policy stated in the White Book, Internet in China, issued on June 8, 2010. During this period, "cloud computing" and the "internet of things" turned from mere concepts into development and application.

At the same time, related government and legal institutions stipulated more than 100 laws, regulations, legal explanations and local rules about various aspects of internet based on experiences since the 1990s. Specially, the Temporary Regulations published in 2000 and the Administrative Regulations five years later opened a new path for regulating online community through the law.

II. Promoting Legislation on Media Administration

The CPC's basic principle of media administration has been fully expressed in legal form in the Temporary Regulations and the Administrative Regulations. These are the key rules in regulating internet news services. The State Council Information Office was put in charge of administration.

In the Administrative Regulations, upholding the correct orientation of public opinion, a basic policy of the CPC in administrating the press, established its position as law for the first time.

By October, 2010, nearly 200 websites throughout China had obtained the Internet News and Information Service Permit, handling more than 90 percent of the data flow and becoming major internet news and information suppliers.

III. Clarifying the Responsibilities of Administrative Law Enforcement

On Sep. 26, 2005, a spokesperson for the State Council Information Office indicated to the press that, based on the Constitution, Administrative Permit Law and Administrative Penalties Law, the State Council Information Office and the Ministry of Information Industry exercised transparent, open and fair administration, stipulated legal rights for administrative entities and targets, defined related responsibilities, rights and duties, and demonstrated the principle of unity between law and reason, efficiency and convenience, supervision and responsibilities, and management and service.

New provisions in Administrative Regulations defined the fines and other penalties for improper and illegal practices. For example, internet access could be shutoff if a website severely violated administrative rules on internet information services.

IV. Guaranteeing the Formation of Industrial Self-Discipline

Industrial self-discipline has always been a significant point in China's internet administration.

In the absence of a press law, China's relevant laws and regulations had not been well coordinated, had not brought legal resources into full play and not been well executed. Establishment of industrial self-discipline mechanism has helped reduce lawsuits, provide necessary cautions for the press and achieve self-adjustment and correction internally by means of morality. In the past 10 years, the legal practice of internet news and information services has been promoting and guaranteeing establishment of this mechanism.

On May 25, 2001, the Internet Society of China (ISC) was set up and supervised by the Ministry of Information Industry. The purpose of the ISC is to provide an open platform and effective services and serve the needs of members, promote industrial development and the government policy. This symbolized the official establishment of China's internet industrial self-discipline organization at State level.

On Mar. 14, 2006, then Premier Wen Jiabao said: "China is exercising legal administration of its internet industry. At the same time, we also support self-discipline and self-management within the industry." He went on: "Websites should carry correct information. They should not misguide the people, and should not exert a bad influence to the social order. These are professional ethics and should be abided by."

In 2010, then CPC General Secretary Hu Jintao and senior government officials of relevant ministries and departments pointed out on different occasions that related laws and regulations should be perfected while industrial self-discipline should be strengthened so that internet enterprises would abide by the law and regulations conscientiously and join hands in creating a healthy and positive environment.

Looking back at the legislation and enforcement practices in the past 10 years makes us more active and wiser. According to the estimate of the China Internet Network Information Center, by July 31, 2010, the number of internet users reached 426 million in China, indicating an internet usage rate of 31.9 percent, higher than the world average. The year of 2010 saw the report of the 16th CPC Congress calling for "formation of a socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics". The practice of legal administration on internet news and information services will, no doubt, make unique contributions to China's legal construction in the press and to the formation of the socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics.

The author is an associate researcher of Beijing Internet Information office

The article was translated by Li Bin, and was firstly published in Chinese in 2nd Edition of Beijing Social Science in 2011.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of


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