[SHANGHAI] China's internet regulator has fined several websites for violating internet publication rules and ordered them to "rectify" pages that ran news stories based on their own reporting, state media has reported.
Government rules restricting the publication online of "self-edited" news and information have been widely ignored, with many websites running robust reporting operations.
The enforcement of the rules appeared to be the latest move by President Xi Jinping's administration to strengthen the ruling Communist Party's grip on the flow of news and information.
Websites run by Sina Corp, Sohu.com Inc, Netease Inc, Phoenix New Media Ltd's iFeng and others had engaged in "actions that seriously violated regulations and had a completely vile effect", state media reported, quoting the Beijing municipal arm of the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC).
The sites were ordered to "rectify" their wrongdoing and slapped with administrative fines, it said.
One report by the Beijing Times that was widely re-published, including by the websites of the state news agency Xinhua and the Communist Party's official People's Daily, said several pages on Sina, Sohu, Netease and iFeng had been shut down. "All the (items) that were shut down or cleaned up included websites and web pages, mobile clients, public WeChat accounts and other platforms for propagation," the Beijing Times said.
In a notice posted on its website, the CAC said late on Monday that eight internet portals - the four mentioned in the news reports, as well as Tencent Holding Ltd, Baidu Inc and two that were not identified - had been subject to inspections in Beijing and Guangdong.
Calls to Sina were not answered and the company did not respond to emailed requests for a comment. Calls to Netease and iFeng were not answered.
Baidu and Tencent did not provide immediate comment when contacted by Reuters early on Tuesday.
A Sohu spokeswoman also declined to comment.
The CAC said the inspections had discovered problems in management, training and other areas resulting in part from "the blind pursuit of economic benefit".
"There were problems resulting from the rapid development of new technologies, and real problems with lagging legislation and team building that wasn't strong," it said. "The national CAC will work with the local cyberspace administrations to put forward requirements for rectification for the relevant websites and conduct discussions with Tencent and iFeng, which had prominent website management problems," it said.
The party has signalled that it would not be relaxing its control over the media any time soon.
In February, Mr Xi visited the offices of Xinhua, the People's Daily and CCTV, the government's flagship television station, and said media must follow the party line, uphold the "correct guidance of public opinion" and promote "positive propaganda as the main theme".