THE REMOVAL OF the private sector from China’s education market was abrupt and disruptive. Doing the same to media is being handled more carefully but will likely have far more extensive ramifications.
The newly published draft by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the country’s top economic planning agency, of its ‘negative list’ of industry sectors in which private investment, Chinese or foreign, will not be allowed, includes a broad swathe of media activities.
‘Non-public’ (ie, private) capital will not be allowed in any newsgathering, editing and broadcasting business. Nor will it be permitted in the establishment and operation of news organisations, including news agencies, newspaper publishing units and radio and television broadcasting organisations.
Private capital will also be barred from reproducing in China news content released by non-Chinese entities abroad and online live streaming events that could sway public opinion — a catch-all covering any topic.
Media would become a wholly state-owned sector.
It is unclear how existing private investment in media will be affected at this point, including media organisations that have both private and state investors. However, the new regulations are likely directed towards the big tech platforms like Weibo and WeChat that carry plenty of news.
A move in that direction was foreshadowed in the pressure applied earlier this year to the Jack Ma-founded tech giant Alibaba to divest its media holdings during the regulatory scrutiny of its fintech affiliate, Ant Group.
Authorities were concerned about Alibaba’s potential influence over public opinion, especially via social media. Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post, among other media properties.
The NDRC’s proposal mentions explicitly excluding private capital from any involvement with media outlets’ social media accounts.
The new constrictions on media ownership fit a pattern of tightening control over public discourse that has ranged from showbusiness to academia, with authorities pushing to eliminate the publishing of content that violates the core values of socialism.
Overall, the proposed changes will cut the negative list by six sectors from the current 123 once approved. Some sectors would see their barriers to entry reduced.
Apart from media, the other eye-catching headline is that cryptocurrency mining will join the proscribed list. That extends the continuing crackdown on cryptocurrencies.
The seven-day public consultation is due to last until October 14.