Anti-porn watchdog to revoke Sina internet portal's licences over 'erotic' content
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 April, 2014, 9:06pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 April, 2014, 3:16am
Wu Nan and Chris Luo
China’s anti-pornography authorities say they plan to revoke licences owned by Sina.com, a massive portal run by internet giant Sina Corp, in what observers say is a surprisingly harsh move.
Shares in the Nasdaq-listed company fell more than 7 per cent when the market opened but rose slightly to hit US$50.6 just before noon.
The joint co-ordinating body against obscenity said it found 20 “pornographic and erotic” e-books on Sina.com’s reading channel along with four pornographic audio-visual programmes in its channel for user-generated videos.
The authorities also said they would impose a fine of up to 10 times the profit Nasdaq-listed Sina Corp gained from the alleged smut.
Several suspects, their numbers unknown, were also placed under the Beijing police’s custody for investigation, the watchdog said. It was not immediately clear if the suspects were Sina.com users or employees, or what charges they would face.
Sina.com, widely seen as the Chinese equivalent of Yahoo, offers various kinds of content including news, videos and an e-commerce service.
In a statement delivered to Sina Corp, the authorities said they planned to cancel Sina’s Internet Publication Permit and Online Audio-Video Programme Licence, The Beijing News says. It did not say when the licences would be revoked.
This would bar Sina.com from offering e-books, audio and video content to its millions of daily users. Sina.com is said to have more than 230 million registered users and draws 700 million hits a day.
Although its news operation will be untouched, and its sheer scope means it will not lose too many its users, experts say the sanctions will have a chilling effect on Sina and other websites.
“The official notice to punish Sina.com certainly has an impact. It will frighten other websites about their own content generation,” said Hu Yong, associate professor at Peking University’s School of Journalism and Communication.
“Chinese government has a tradition to use special operations to inspect Internet, but the true purpose is usually hidden," he said. "The tension between government regulations and Internet operations will continue.”
The body, also known as the National Office of Anti-Pornography and Anti-Illegal Publications, and the internet police have launched a crackdown on online obscenity two weeks ago, as part of wider campaign to tighten its grip on the internet.
So far at least 110 websites across the nation have been shut and some 3,300 pornography-related accounts have been blocked.
The China National Internet Information Office and the obscenity watchdog are targeting to eliminate any content that may “corrupt” the youth.
Sina has the right to request a hearing and ask for an administrative review on the decision, reported the Beijing News.
In an official statement published on Weibo on Thursday, Sina apologised to users for failing to "scrutinise" parts of its contents, and said it would fully cooperate with authorities.
The announcement came barely one week after the initial public offering of Weibo, a social media service owned by Sina and Alibaba, in New York. The stock sale raised US$285.6 million, and put Weibo’s total valuation at US$3.46 billion.
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Smut watchdog to pull Sina's licences