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China toughens restrictions on Internet news

China has imposed a set of strict new regulations on Internet news content. NBC News' Charles Hadlock reports on the latest crackdown from Beijing.
China has forced hundreds of Internet cafes, such as this one in Beijing, to shut down.Greg Baker / AP
/ Source: NBC News

BEIJING — If you’re trying to read this story on the Internet in China, there’s a growing chance that all you’ll see is: “This page cannot be displayed.”

For Chinese looking for unfiltered, uncensored news, it’s about to get a lot worse.

Communist leaders have imposed a set of strict new regulations on Internet news content. The rules, issued Sunday by the Ministry of Information Industry and the State Council, China's cabinet, will "standardize the management of news and information" in the country.

The new rules take effect immediately and are seen targeting bloggers and other unofficial journalists and news sites.

China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported that only "healthy and civilized news and information that is beneficial to the improvement of the quality of the nation, beneficial to its economic development and conducive to social progress" will be allowed.

Internet news sites, it said, must "be directed toward serving the people and socialism and insist on correct guidance of public opinion for maintaining national and public interests."

Any Web site publishing news stories in China is now required to register with the government. This includes any company disseminating news to China’s 200 million cell phone customers using SMS, Short Message Service technology.

‘Great Firewall’
Internet users are calling the Chinese restrictions “The Great Firewall.”

A senior U.S. State Department official in China, who spoke to on condition of anonymity, told that the new restrictions imposed by Chinese authorities are “disturbing.”

Beijing for years has tried to embrace the Internet for business while blocking any notion of free speech or democracy.

China has an army of cyber police who track, patrol, monitor and block Web sites and e-mails it deems a threat to society, namely communist rule. Searching for the words “democracy” or “human rights” from the Internet in China will yield very few readable results.

Postings that criticize the government or address sensitive topics are quickly removed. Access to many foreign news sites is routinely blocked.

China routinely blocks access to Internet sites on sensitive subjects such as self-ruled Taiwan, which China regards as its own, and the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy demonstrations which were crushed by the military with heavy loss of life.

Providers of online news and other services, from domestic players Sina Corp. and to foreign firms such as Yahoo Inc., also practice forms of self-censorship by blocking sites and prohibiting message posting on sensitive topics.

But the new regulations would curtail discussion on a wider variety of subjects, analysts said.

“Much more relevant is current affairs, social and political news. You don’t necessarily have to touch taboo areas,” said Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet Project at the University of California at Berkeley.

Bloggers must register with authorities
Earlier this year, China required anyone starting a Web site or a blog to register with authorities.

Hundreds of Internet cafes — the main entry for Chinese who can’t afford a computer or Internet access — have closed as part of an ongoing effort to curb potential political decent.

Now students logging on to university on-line discussion groups must register using their government-issued ID, making it easier for the cyber police to monitor their activities on the Internet.

There are an estimated 100 million Internet users in China, ranking it only second to the United States with 135 million users.