With effect from 1 July 2017, new rules have been introduced by the China Netcasting Services Association ("CNSA") which increase the regulatory scrutiny applied to online video content. The rules, which are aimed at video hosting services which allow users to upload content, are drafted broadly, meaning that almost all video content will be affected.
Whilst video hosting services have always been required to vet content uploaded to its platforms, the level of scrutiny required was generally low, in contrast to internet TV services, which are subject to extensive vetting by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television. The rules can therefore be seen as an effort to exercise greater control over the content of material on video hosting platforms.
The new rules require that all programs must be examined carefully and strictly by video hosting platforms before broadcast to ensure that the programs do not contain, amongst others, content which:
- Spoofs or damages the image or reputation of a Chinese revolutionary leader or heroic figure
- Shows "abnormal" sexual relationships
- Infringes intellectual property rights
- Uses non-standard Chinese characters
The rules also require that programs avoid the use of underage children, a move aimed at quashing an increasing trend for celebrities in China to use their children in content posted online.
The rules lay down specific criteria to be followed by video hosting platforms, including the training which examiners are required to undertake and that at least two or three examiners should examine the content of each video. The rules also make specific provision for "expert" examination of videos which relate to Chinese revolutionary leaders, heroic figures, the Chinese army or judicial officials.
The CNSA is an industry association so the rules are only binding on CNSA members and do not have the force of law. However, as almost all major online audio and video platforms in China are members of the CNSA, the rules have the potential to significantly re-shape market practices.
The rules are more stringent than the current practice and will therefore impose an increased burden on video hosting platforms. The non-binding nature of the rules is seen by many as a move by the Chinese government to test the response from the public and industry before assessing its next move. The rules have been subject to criticism that they will restrict the content of online videos and impede Internet freedom in China.
However, the rules form part of a series of other measures aimed at "cleaning up" the internet in China, including provisions on live broadcasting over the internet, the management of internet news services and trial measures in relation to online literature. The new Cybersecurity law in China and the recent crackdown on the use of VPNs in China also forms part of this trend of increasing government control over all aspects of the internet. Online content providers are therefore advised to watch this space carefully for future developments.