Published on April 27, 2016

The People’s Republic of China is currently implementing a substantial reform on online publishing. It appears that the overall purpose of this reform is to prevent foreign firms and joint ventures operating in the media industry from publishing both original content and adapted works online.


After the constitution, in 2014, of the Central Leading Group for Internet Security and Informatisation, under the control of the Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, President Xi Jinping declared that “we should respect the right of every country to choose its own approach to internet governance.” This statement can be read as the explanation and the reason why the PRC Government decided to better clarify the rules about online publication in China.

The “Regulation for the Management of Online Publishing Services” —announced on 13th February, 2016, and in force since from 10th March 2016 — replaces the Temporary Regulation on the Management of Online Publishing, which took effect after China’s accession to the World Trade Organisation in 2001.


Who is affected by this new Regulation?

The most important question to ask about this reform is: are we looking at a general media sector reform, or will it even apply to individuals posting on social networks?

The answer to the first query seems to be contained, reading the legal norm’s statements, within the Regulation in the chapter entitled “The Publishing Entities”.

Reading the text of the Regulation, it can be deducted from the text of the articles that the reform applies solely to enterprises, companies and agencies whose core business is publishing and not to each WeChat private user or company account.

Article 8 of the Regulation states that: “The publishing entities of books, audio, electronics, newspaper and periodicals shall meet the following conditions before providing network publishing services: (i) there are definite publishing platforms like website domain and intelligent terminal applications for network publishing; (ii) there is a definite network publishing service scope; (iii) there is the necessary technical equipment of network publishing service, and relevant servers and storage devices must be maintained within the territory of the PRC.” This matches a definition already found in the “Regulation on the Administration of Publication”, which clarifies that “publishing entities include newspaper offices, periodical offices, book publishing houses, audio and video product publishing houses and electronic publication publishing houses, etc.” In other words, both the “subjective” and “objective” scopes of the legal norm are determined by designating at once the entities and the kinds of works subjected to it.

 Article 9 gives other details about the “subject” of the Regulation: “In addition to the conditions under Article 8, other entities shall also meet the following conditions before providing network publishing services:[…]”. An incorrect interpretation of “other entities” in terms of non-online publishers would expand the regulatory scope to include every entity that is not a professional publishing house. “Other entities” shall be, instead, serenely intended as “entities willing to become online publishers”.

Personal limitations

The legal norm gives the above mentioned kinds of enterprises the right of publishing without any territorial limits and without the need for specific authorisation.

On one hand, though, the first part of Article 10 of the Regulation provides that “Chinese-foreign equity joint ventures, Chinese-foreign contractual joint ventures and foreign-invested companies shall not engage in online publishing services” while, on the other hand, the second part of the same Article states that domestic content providers that wish to cooperate with foreign companies or joint ventures, foreign individuals or other overseas entities, must seek for approval of the State Administration for Press, Publications, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT). This approval is not only in order to publish online, but also to engage in future partnerships.

 Another important focal point of the reform is the requirement for domestic operators looking to publish online content to obtain special licences. The public organ in charge of issuing such licences is, once again, the SAPPRFT. According to Article 7 of the RegulationEngaging in online publishing services shall be approved by the relevant administrative department of publication and obtain the online publishing service licence”.

Checks and censorship

The normative reform tasks local Governments with regularly monitoring online publishers within their jurisdiction and making annual inspections. This can be considered as part of national security policy.

Authorised publishers must now keep their servers and the storage systems physically in Chinese territory (Article 12, item 7). They are obliged, in particular, to practice self-censorship. The meaning of “self-censorship” is abstaining from:

a) publishing anything that might undermine national unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity;

b) disclosing state secrets, in a way that might endanger national security, or undermine the honour or the interests of the country;

c) inciting ethnic hatred or racial discrimination, or going against ethnic customs and habits;

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