Tuesday, September 27, 2005

China's Goal for the Internet: Xinhua Select

On a subject dear to all our hearts, the Chinese government has unveiled a new regulation on internet news providers.

There has been a certain amount of squealing in the media and blogosphere, taking the new reg as a jumping off point to grumble about Chinese attempts to clamp down on non-government sources of information and opinion.

All very true, but the intention of the new reg is primarily to create a protected class of licensed Internet news companies, incorporated, registered with the government, with certain levels of capitalization and employees (with minimum 3 years' previous experience in the news business), in other words corporatized news businesses unlikely to offend--a media style we're more than a little familiar with here in the US.

Penalties on unlicensed news purveyors--those brave bloggers, posters, and Falun Gong enthusiasts--are mentioned once Section 5 Chapter 26, for those of you who like to keep track), almost in passing, when the penalties for people who get into the news business without a license are addressed.

So the point of this new policy is not to try to resuscitate the AOL model and create the world's largest moderated chatroom, with Sohu and Yahoo dutifully pulling at the oars--though that's going on too.

What we have here is the capitalism-with-Chinese-characteristics side of the manufacturing consent equation.

The Chinese government wants to create nice, meek, risk averse Internet news businesses that will be protected from competition from lively, popular blogs and websites.

Armed with this protection--and secure in the knowledge that the Chinese government will sanction unlicensed news providers--the official news providers will grow, attract investment, and crowd out and delegitimize other information sources on the Internet.

In other words, it's a MSM Internet model, this time backed up by the clout of the host government.

Is it going to be up to the Chinese teach us the workable, profitable Internet news business model--call it Xinhua Select--based on government monopoly and corporate collusion?

Bill Keller must be envious. Imagine a world in which posting an embargoed David Brooks column is a crime against the state, and not just an offense against decency and respectable prose.

The kvetching of the print media is therefore rather ironic.

The Chinese regs--with their ostentatious paeans to professionalism, responsibility, accuracy, and accountability--sound like they are ripped from the transcript of those tedious blogger ethics panels that professional journalists are always convening to harrass the raggedy-assed purveyors of innuendo, speculation, and recycled news stories on the Internet.

In both cases, the net result is to suppress the indispensable alternate version of reality that the Internet can provide in this age of elite message management and information control.


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