The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has begun laying the groundwork to ban private investments in media organizations, according to US-funded Radio Free Asia (RFA).
Under proposed rule changes posted to its official website on Oct. 8, the State Development and Reform Commission (SDRC) said it was soliciting public opinion on adding private sector investment in media organizations to a list of banned investments.
The list, which is intended to apply across China without local variation, requires that "organizations with no public sector investment shall not engage in business involving newsgathering, editing or broadcasting." -RFA
Organizations banned under the rule would include news agencies, newspaper groups, radio or television broadcasters, and providers of online news, editing services or publishers. According to the report, the recommendation was signed by China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, along with the General Administration of Press and Publications, and the Cyberspace Administration.
The media crackdown is just the latest in a long list of entities that private investors wouldn't be able to participate in under the proposed changes - which include political, economic, military, or diplomatic organizations, and "major social, cultural, technological, health, education, sports and other services" per RFA.
"The government is making sure that it controls its message -- it won't hand over the pen to anyone else," said retired Shanxi University lecturer whose surname is Luo. "It wants a dominating voice to rule over everything."
"The message is very clear: don't mess with the media or try to do anything connected with it."
According to Beijing-based current affairs commentator Zhang Tianqi, the CCP has continued to tighten control over public speech and the media since general secretary Xi Jinping took power in 2012.
"It is not surprising, because this will be conducive to a more thorough brainwashing of the population," he said, adding "They used both military force and propaganda to take power back in 1949, and the news media, the power of the pen, has remained a very important pillar of the regime ever since."
China previously banned investments in the media as early as 2005, however it was overturned by former president Hu Jintao and then premier Wen Jiabo, who sought to make the sector more attractive to consumers who began turning to inline platforms for news and entertainment.
"Ten years ago, Hu and Wen allowed private sector investment in the media, because they thought it could save the mainstream media," said Zhang.
Li Guangman, columnist and former editor of the trade publication Central China Electric Power, said in an online op-ed piece that the move is part of the "profound revolution" he wrote about in August.
Li, whose essay on Xi Jinping's move away from the pro-market policies of the past four decades propelled him to instant fame in China, said the proposed changes would eradicate "capitalists" from China's news and other media content.
"It is very wise," he wrote on Oct. 11. "Once the list is released and implemented, we will see profound and significant changes in this country's news media."
Li's earlier essay said that the CCP has launched a "profound revolution" with its crackdown on celebrity culture, billionaires, and the private sector generally, citing Beijing's blocking of Ant Financial's initial public offering (IPO) in New York in late 2020, as well as an ongoing probe into the business operations of ride-sharing app Didi Chuxing.
"It represents a return to the original aims of the CCP ... and to the essence of socialism. This revolution will wash all of the dirt away," Li wrote at the time.
Meanwhile, the Chinese have been aggressively pushing into Western media over the last decade - including the US ad tech landscape.
In 2020, the US government labeled six media companies as 'foreign missions' - with then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saing that they were "substantially or effectively controlled by a foreign government."
"We're not placing any restrictions on what these outlets can publish in the United States," said Pompeo. "We simply want to ensure that American people, consumers of information, can differentiate between news written by a free press and propaganda distributed by the Chinese Communist Party itself. They're not the same thing."