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Chinese Censors Have New Target: Celebrity News

Since that meeting, reported by the state broadcaster China Central Television, major Chinese internet companies like Tencent and Baidu and the news aggregation platform Jinri Toutiao have shut down more than 80 popular entertainment-related public accounts, according to state news outlets. Many were on Tencent’s WeChat social-media service, which is widely used in China and is increasingly a source of news and information.

Many of the closed blogs and accounts were making a tidy profit from advertising revenue, and some recently turned to venture capital investors as a route to growth. Zhuo Wei, known as China’s No. 1 paparazzo, had more than seven million followers for his coverage of celebrities like the singer Faye Wong and the Chinese actress Bai Baihe. He could not immediately be reached for comment.

At least one of the closed accounts was affiliated with a global brand. The entertainment-related WeChat account of the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar was shut down, although its account on Weibo, another social-media service, and its general WeChat account appeared to have survived. A spokesman for Harper’s Bazaar could not immediately be reached for comment.

The closings prompted a swift outcry from China’s media circles. While the local news industry has long been subjected to strict government censorship on politics and other topics deemed to be delicate, entertainment news has typically been viewed as safe.

“In China, there were only two areas before that we could say had news freedom: One was entertainment, and the other was sports,” said Gao Ming, host of the podcast Radio HiLight and a former editor at AsiaContent.com, an online entertainment news company. “But now I think the government is trying to send a message that all the news needs to be within its control.”

Using a Chinese phrase that means to make an example of someone or something, Mr. Gao added, “They’re killing the chicken to scare the monkeys.”

Of particular concern for many fans and industry watchers was the shutdown of popular entertainment-related accounts that were not in the business of trading celebrity gossip. One of these was the WeChat public account of the popular movie-review blog Dushe Dianying, which still had more than 4.8 million followers on Weibo. In July, the Chinese news media reported that Dushe Dianying was valued at about $ 44 million, after completing an early round of financing.

“Generally, China’s leaders have been obsessed with the containment of negative coverage, and under Xi Jinping we’ve seen a rather dramatic decline in serious coverage by China’s media,” David Bandurski, editor of the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong, said in emailed comments, referring to the Chinese president. “What we’re now seeing is a war on the nonserious.”

“It’s no longer enough for media content to avoid the negative,’’ he added. “It must be adequately positive.”

The shutdowns come after a new cybersecurity law and new regulations issued by the Cyberspace Administration of China concerning the provision of news information through social media platforms like WeChat came into effect last week. According to the regulations, all online publishers — including websites, apps, blogs and social media accounts — must obtain permits from the authorities in order to publish news or news commentaries.

“These regulations could have quite a dramatic impact on the ecosystem of public accounts on WeChat, and on the broader online space,” Mr. Bandurski said. “This is something we must watch closely.”

Some of the affected accounts have already begun to regroup. By Thursday morning, Go Ying Studio, known for celebrity photographs and gossip, had created a new account and posted an official apology. “For us, this was a very profound lesson,” the statement read. “We wholeheartedly accept the criticism and help given to us by different corners of society, and from now on, we will make sure to strengthen our own thinking and moral education.”

But the future of many of the accounts remains uncertain — a cause for concern among the bloggers’ millions of fans.

“To me, it has become a habit to read some of these accounts every evening to relax,” lamented one reader, Luna, in a comment on a Chinese-language article about the deleted accounts. “People need these kinds of positive entertainment news. I am so sad.”

Source: NYT > World

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