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US-China trade tensions have hit a business news app backed by China’s “Rupert Murdoch”

By Jane Li

China’s financial journalists used to think they, and their publications, were among the lucky few that could evade the country’s blanket internet censorship. The trade war has ended that illusion.

One of China’s most popular financial news channels, Huaerjie Jian Wen (华尔街见闻), or Wall Street News, announced  (link in Chinese) on Chinese social media platform Weibo that its website and apps have been shut down since Monday night (June 10), citing requirements from “relevant departments.” That’s an ambiguous term, yet one commonly used in China when referring to rules implemented by agencies whom people don’t want to name for fear of stirring controversy.

Although the news outlet didn’t specify which rules it had breached, a screenshot has been circulating online of a government order apparently issued by the Cyberspace Administration of China, China’s internet regulator, which said the company had “severely violated rules under China’s cybersecurity law.” The company said in its announcement that it would “enhance management of staff and self-examination of content” and hopes to resume operations soon.

The shutdown comes as China tightens its grip on cyberspace in recent days, adding a number of foreign news outlets, including the Guardian and Washington Post, to an ever-growing list of blocked websites that includes the New York Times, Quartz, Facebook and Twitter. While some argue the move is likely a reaction to coverage of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the complete shutdown of a Chinese business news site suggests that the authorities are also very wary of some of the more freewheeling local financial news reports given the trade tensions between China and the US. “Chinese financial news outlets are suffering badly recently… they first don’t allow us to talk about politics, and now even business news,” said one Weibo user commenting on the closure.

Beijing has reportedly required financial outlets to avoid using terms such as “plunge of shares” or “China-US trade war” but rather “trade tensions,” according to Hong Kong news site, the Initium. Stories relating to the trade war were among the most censored topics in 2018 on Chinese social media platform WeChat, according to an analysis of 4,000 public accounts by Wechatscope, a Chinese censorship monitoring project run by University of Hong Kong journalism professor King-wa Fu.

Founded in 2013 by a financial journalist, Wall Street News has quickly established its reputation as “China’s Bloomberg” among the country’s financial professionals for its quick follow-up and analysis on news events, and colorful, eye-catching mobile push notifications. One recent one was: “The property industry is like a ‘chamber pot’ whose lid should not be lifted again.” It also has a strong team of influential authors consisting of financial analysts, academics, entrepreneurs and investors, in addition to journalists. It ranked as the third-most downloaded Chinese financial news app in 2018, following Sina Finance, the financial news portal of the parent company of Weibo, and 21Jingji, a Guangzhou-based news outlet, according to China Internet Weekly.

Despite accusations of the news outlet violating copyright of content published by Chinese business news channel Caixin, Bloomberg and Dow Jones, the news app has amassed 180 million users, according to the South China Morning Post. (Its name, in fact, can also be translated to “Hearsay on Wall Street,” which has a rather familiar ring to it.)

On the back of its quick growth, the company  has won three rounds of fundraising, receiving investments from investors including Li Ruigang, a media mogul who’s been dubbed by local media “China’s Rupert Murdoch” for his sprawling business and investments in the media industry, between 2014 to 2016. Li reportedly put 100 million yuan ($14 million) into the company through his investment vehicle CMC Capital in 2016. Li has also been a vice-chairman of Hong Kong’s free-to-air broadcaster Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) since 2016.