BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese Internet firm Sina Corp has been stripped of its online publication licence after being targeted in a pornography crackdown, state media reported, prompting its share price to drop more than 7 percent.
The licence revocation is the harshest punishment yet for a large Chinese Internet company in an intensifying online crackdown that is now targeting firms as well as individual web users.
Twenty articles and four videos posted on Sina.com contained "lewd and pornographic content", the official Xinhua news agency said on Thursday, citing a statement by the National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications.
"As a result, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television revoked the company's two crucial licences on Internet publication and audio and video dissemination," Xinhua said.
China has shut down more than 100 websites carrying pornography and closed thousands of accounts on social media sites in a campaign to clean up the Internet, the news agency reported earlier this week.
Pornography is illegal in China, but some overseas critics are concerned that the crackdown on material deemed obscene is the latest government attempt to tighten its grip on the Internet and will be used in broader censorship of websites.
Sina issued a statement on its Sina Tech microblog, saying the company was sincerely apologetic and that it is now closely communicating and cooperating with authorities.
"We are one of China's most influential websites and we're not yet capable of our full duty to protect the country. For this we are even more regretful and ashamed," Sina said.
The web portal firm said it would deal with those responsible and introduce new mechanisms to deal with pornographic content. "We will handle and not avoid any serious punishment authorities impose on us," it said.
Shares in Nasdaq-listed Sina were down 7.3 percent at $49.37 at 1400 GMT.
The offending material was found after "a huge amount" of tip-offs from the public, Xinhua said. People suspected of criminal offences have been referred to police for investigation, it said without elaborating.
China's anti-pornography campaign was launched this month and officials say it will last until November. It comes after a crackdown on Wechat, Tencent Holdings Ltd's social messaging app, which has had dozens of widely read accounts run by outspoken columnists shut down.
It also follows a move last year to purge online rumour-mongering, widely seen by free speech advocates as a tool to punish critics of the ruling Communist Party. This has muted online demands from transparency campaigners, especially on Sina's Weibo, China's version of Twitter.
Analysts widely attributed a 9 percent decline in China's microblog users in 2013 to the crackdown.
(Reporting by Michael Martina and Paul Carsten; Editing by Pravin Char)