China shuts down online showbiz gossip

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China has begun a war against ­online showbiz gossip, suddenly ordering the closure from yesterday of 25 of the country’s most popular sites on WeChat, the dominant social media platform.

The sites, which have millions of regular followers, have not been shut because they question the Communist Party state, or ­because they display violence or pornography, but to “curb the trend of chasing low taste and the vulgar”.

On Wednesday, the Cyberspace Administration summoned leaders of China’s top internet portals — including Sina, Tencent, Youku, NetEase and Baidu — to demand they exert far stricter control on accounts, with all people posting material already required to provide their full names and government identity card numbers.

The organisation told them to “take effective measures to review content about love affairs, and to suppress the propagation of ­mat­erial about the extravagant lives” of music, movie and TV stars.

The WeChat sites closed includ­e those of foreign fashion magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar­, owned by American publisher Hearst, of men’s magazine FHM, and of the entertainment division of Chinese publisher Southern Metropolis, based in Guangzhou.

The followers of such sites found yesterday that not only are new postings blocked, but that they can no longer access previously posted material.

The sites that were closed ­include that of Zhuo Wei, who markets himself as “the No 1 papar­azzi in China”, and who had seven million followers.

Zhuo told The Australian in an interview several years ago that “I hope one day we can be ­allowed to expose scandals of ­politicians in China” — but has now been barred for his photographs of pop stars before even starting to shift into that more heavyweight, ­demonstrably difficult terrain in China.

President Xi Jinping expressed concern, in an undated party meeting, that “many people, ­especially young people, don’t read mainstream media but get most of their information from the internet”.

“We must address this issue, and not allow our media” — which is all party or state owned — “to be marginalised”, he said.

By ROWAN CALLICK
The Australian

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