* Party meeting augurs firmer regulation, but not shutdown
* Government worried about instant information straining
* Document sets agenda for policy, but outcome unclear --
* Business impact likely to be muted -- analyst
(Adds quotes, details)
By Chris Buckley and Melanie Lee
BEIJING/SHANGHAI, Oct 26 China will intensify
controls of online social media and instant messaging tools, the
ruling Communist Party said in an agenda-setting document that
marks the government's highest-level reaction so far to the
explosive growth of microblogs.
Beijing's vow to strengthen Internet administration and
promote content acceptable to the ruling party appeared in the
communique of a recent party leadership conclave published in
the official People's Daily on Wednesday.
Communiques from the Communist Party's Central Committee,
which held an annual meeting that ended last week, set the broad
direction for policy.
This one made clear that leaders are looking for ways to
better control, but not snuff out, the microblog services that
have become popular channels for spreading news and opinion that
can unsettle the government.
"Strengthen guidance and administration of social Internet
services and instant communications tools, and regulate the
orderly dissemination of information," said the communique,
which made no reference to microblogs as such.
"Apply the law to sternly punish the dissemination of
harmful information," added the document. It did not give
details of what form firmer regulation may take.
The announcement from the Party meeting builds on a stream
of warnings in state media that has shown Beijing is nervous
about the booming microblogs, called "weibo" in Chinese, and
their potential to tear the seams of censorship and controls.
"Putting words like that in a document like that shows that
they're taking this issue very seriously," said Li Yonggang, an
expert on Internet policy at Nanjing University in east China.
"This is a political signal, but it will probably be some
time before this results in any new measures or regulations
Analysts said the business impact was likely to be muted,
because investors have already taken into account growing
official scrutiny of Chinese Internet companies, and the
government is unlikely to shut down what has become an important
valve for monitoring and easing social pressures.
"There will be tighter censorship, but the impact on the
platforms won't be much," said Hong Kong-based CLSA analyst
Most use Sina Corp's "Weibo" service, launched in
August 2009, or rival Tencent Holding's "QQ" service.
CRITICISING OFFICIALS, REPORTING UNREST AND ABUSES
Chinese microblogs, especially Sina's dominant "Weibo"
service, carry plenty of gossip and harmless fare. But they also
offer raucous forums for lambasting officials and reporting
unrest or official abuses. It is their potential to stoke
popular discontent that most worries Beijing.
Microblogs allow users to issue bursts of opinion -- a
maximum of 140 Chinese characters -- that can course through
chains of followers who instantly receive messages, challenging
censors who have a hard time monitoring the tens of millions of
messages sent every day.
Inventive users adopt alternative words to get around
A bullet train crash in Wenzhou this July was a
watershed moment for Sina's "Weibo" microblog service as
thousands of users expressed anger at the official response and
pulled apart official accounts of the crash and rescue response.
More recently, an uproar spread on Sina's Weibo when a
two-year-old girl was run over by two trucks and then ignored by
passersby as she lay bleeding. She later died.
The number of Chinese users registered on domestic microblog
sites reached 195 million by the end of June, a more than
threefold increase on the number at the end of 2010, according
to the China Internet Network Information Center.
Beijing has repeatedly criticized microblogs for
irresponsibility spreading what it calls unfounded rumours.
On Wednesday, the People's Daily kept up those warnings,
citing a statement from the State Internet Information Office
that it had asked police to punish people responsible for
spreading a bogus tax policy announcement and rumours that a
fight jet had crashed, killing the pilot.
"The Internet is a microphone that everyone can use, but it
is not one that everyone can use well," said the paper.
A State Internet Information Office official this month
called for stricter policing of microblogs while encouraging
officials to use them, indicating Beijing was looking to better
control such services, not shut them down.
Sina and other Chinese microblog operators already deploy
technicians and software to monitor content and block and remove
comment deemed unacceptable, especially about protests, official
scandals and party leaders.
Excessive self-censorship on the microblog platforms risks
alienating users by making them bland, analysts said.
"The more important risk we see for Sina Weibo and other
Weibos is that they self-regulate out of business," said Michael
Clendenin, the managing director of RedTech Advisors.
"And that they self-neuter and that makes the platform so
boring no one wants to use it."
(Editing by Ron Popeski and Sugita Katyal)