China sets up new office to tighten Net control

Country's State Council Information Office establishes new agency to coordinate government's various offices involved in Internet regulation, say reports.

China has set up a new agency to further regulate the country's vast cyberspace, in a move defended by a Chinese official who says most governments also regulate similar unsavory Internet content.

The New York Times (NYT) this week reported that China's press arm the has established a new agency, called the State Internet Information Office.

Operating under its jurisdiction, the Information Office said the new outlet is responsible for directing online content management, supervising online gaming, video and publications, promoting major news sites and facilitating online promotion. The agency also has the power to investigate and punish Web sites that violate regulations, as well as supervise telecom companies which provide access to Internet users and content providers, according to NYT.

Initial reports did not specify how the new agency will work with existing agencies, comprising at least 14 government units, which are already involved in Internet regulation.

A Chinese official later stepped out to explain the role of the new agency. Quoting state-controlled news agency Xinhua, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on Thursday that the unnamed government representative said the State Internet Information Office will "coordinate and streamline oversight and enforcement, and will be run by officials from agencies already involved with Internet regulation".

The official added that the new office will handle the "current bad environment of the Internet in China" which includes false information, obscene and vulgar content and gambling. He also defended China's Internet regulation, noting that other countries also had rules in place to limit these activities online.

According to the report, the official criticized "a small group of people" who had made "irresponsible" remarks about China's Internet regulation.

A lawyer who spoke to WSJ said the country's centralized control should simplify regulatory environment. But, rather than benefit online users, he noted that the new agency was likely established to allow the Chinese government to better manage its public message and public image.

China has been ramping up efforts to polish its public image. Last month, it launched an Apple iPad app which includes video clips of press conferences and whitepapers on national issues, and issued a mandate ordering agencies to take proper care of their Web sites.