- China's leading IT companies have pledged to censor internet content more strictly
- The news could trigger further disquiet among investors in China's IT industry
- The Communist party censors the Internet to quiet challenges on its grip on power
- The party has become more cautious in advance of its next leadership succession next year
The heads of China's leading information technology companies have pledged to censor internet content more strictly as the Communist party tries to tame a boisterous online media.
The chief executives of 39 internet, telecom and computer groups have reached a "consensus" that internet companies "must strengthen self-control, self-restraint and strict self-discipline", the official news agency Xinhua said on Sunday.
"[They must also] determinedly contain the tendency of spreading online rumours, pornography, fraud and other illegal, harmful information on the internet," it added.
The report followed a three-day political schooling session attended by prominent entrepreneurs including Jack Ma, founder and chairman of the e-commerce group Alibaba, Robin Li, founder and chief executive of Baidu, China's largest search engine, Pony Ma, founder and chief executive of Tencent, which operates the world's largest instant messaging service, and Charles Chao, founder and chief executive of Sina, which runs the country's leading microblog.
The news could trigger further disquiet among investors in China's fast-growing IT industry as regulatory intervention shows signs of becoming more heavy-handed.
China has more than 500m internet users, according to government statistics, more than any other country and more than the population of the European Union.
While the ruling Communist party regards the internet as making a positive contribution to economic development, it runs a vast censorship machine to ensure that online information does not challenge its grip on power.
Forcing the privately owned companies that run websites to monitor, block and erase critical information has always been a cornerstone of Beijing's internet censorship. But the authorities have recently stepped up their demands to internet companies -- a development that drove Google partly to exit the Chinese market last year.
Censorship in general has been tightened in recent years as the security authorities have gained power in the wake of unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang regions, and as the party has become more cautious in advance of its next leadership succession next year.
Over the past eight months, the party has tried to fine-tune its censorship apparatus to establish firmer control of the Twitter-like social media on which government critics often publish faster than censors can react.
Communist officials have dismissed critical information as "rumours", and have campaigned against it.
In September, Mr Chao of Sina, which has attracted attention because of the huge popularity of its Weibo microblog, pledged to tighten internal controls.
Late last month, the campaign was lifted to a new level as the push for a tighter grip on media was enshrined in the policy document from the party leadership's most important annual meeting.
The latest political training session was an important step to implementing this agenda, said participants. "There will be more such meetings, and the language from the directive will have to be repeated by everyone again and again," one said.