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AsiaNews/SCMP – Beijing announced yesterday new rules aimed at tightening controls over news posted on the internet in order to “protect the interests of the state”. News criticising the state’s religious policies or preaching cultist or superstitious beliefs are banned. The announcement did not however give any date as to when the rules would come into effect.

Mainland authorities already strictly control the media and use technology to filter and monitor internet content considered politically sensitive or pornographic.

Dissidents and journalists have also been jailed for posting papers and e-mailing and messages that Beijing considers a threat to the state.

In addition to religious news, the new rules affect ten other ‘forbidden zones’, including news that would endanger state security, state secrets which have not been declassified, or reports that sparked ethnic violence.

They ban organisations from publishing news that incites social unrest and instigates public protests or assemblies. The rules also prohibit spreading rumours and outlaw joint internet publishing ventures or partnerships with foreign organisations.

The announcement comes before a key Communist Party plenum next month. Such a tightening of controls typically precedes such events to stifle protests and present a picture of stability and leadership unity.

The State Council Information Office and the Ministry of Information Industry, which issued the rules, said that the “state bans dissemination of content which goes against state security and the public interest.”

The previous rules on internet news were issued in late 2000, but the rapid development of the internet in the past five years had made them obsolete.

Both Office and Ministry acknowledged the growing power of the internet, saying it had become an important channel for news and had made a deep impact on political and social life.

Under the new rules, three types of entities will be allowed to report news. They include bodies set up by existing media organisations which are either republishing news or posting news based on their own reporting. Non-media organisations will only be allowed to republish news already reported by state-approved media.

Beijing ‘s controls over the internet came under scrutiny recently when a reporters’ rights group said that Yahoo! had provided information to authorities that led to journalist Shi Tao being jailed for 10 years.

Shi had sent information to foreign websites detailing how the government was preparing to pre-empt potential demonstrations on the anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen Square crackdown.