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China curbs on foreign magazines take quiet effect

Written by: Staff
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BEIJING, Apr 7 (Reuters) China's publishing authority has quietly introduced new restrictions on foreign magazines issuing Chinese versions, but officials today denied the rules had led to the closure of Rolling Stone magazine's Chinese edition.

A General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) official said the group created an ''internal rule'' last year that allows only foreign science and technology magazines to develop Chinese versions through tie-ups with approved local partners.

China's Communist Party rulers have cracked down on increasingly bold reporting by local newspapers and magazines.

In August, the government issued a freeze on foreign investment in satellite television and other media ventures.

The GAPP official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the rule would mean sports, entertainment and fashion magazines could not expect approval to enter China's expanding market.

''China never promised to let foreign companies distribute Chinese versions here; they've always had to have a Chinese partner that selects content based on our requirements,'' he said.

''Now approvals will be limited to science and technology publications.'' He said the rule was introduced last year, but could not give a specific date.

This latest development in media controls was first reported by the Wall Street Journal today. It may throw into uncertainty many international media corporations' plans to expand in China, said David Wolf, president of Wolf Group Asia, which advises investors on China's media.

But Wolf said it was far from clear that GAPP spoke for the whole government and its ultimate effect was unclear. ''In China, there's a big difference between passing a regulation and actually enforcing it, and this regulation is no different.'' Victor Visot, a Hong Kong-based executive for Hachette Filipacchi Medias, the world's largest consumer magazine publisher, said he had not heard of the new rule but did not expect it would derail the group's goals in China.

His group helps issue several Chinese-language versions of its titles, including Elle magazine, through local partners.

''I don't expect our plans for growth in the mainland to be affected,'' he told Reuters.

The Chinese official denied the rule directly killed off Rolling Stone's local edition, but he offered little hope for the Chinese publishers of the US-based rock magazine shut down last month after one issue.

''Rolling Stone should have reported and sought approval from the relevant state authority -- which is us, GAPP -- but they never did even that,'' he said.

''It wasn't a question of their content. It's just like they were driving a car without a licence.'' Rolling Stone's first Chinese edition included a cover of rock pioneer Cui Jian and Mu Zimei, a controversial blogger whose candid accounts of sexual adventures led to her site being closed down. The magazine's Chinese editor could not be contacted for comment.

REUTERS SHR RN1600

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