BEIJING, May 16 (Xinhua) -- The number of Internet users in China reached 477 million at the end of March and websites registered with the proper authorities climbed to 3.82 million, a senior telecommunication official said Monday.
Wang Jianwen, deputy head of the Telecommunications Administration Bureau under the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, announced the figures while addressing a meeting on creating a healthy online environment.
Noting that the rapidly-developing Internet has been shaping social relations, the economy, and culture, Wang said surging online fraud, pornography and illegal publicity are disrupting online communications and the market economy.
According to officials, illegal publicity is when companies or individuals recruit "Internet mercenaries" to engage in improper competition against rivals, such as fabricating or distorting facts that can lead to blackmail or seeking to reap profits by sensationalizing issues via the Internet.
A product brand manager for Mengniu, a major Chinese dairy product company, was arrested in October last year after enlisting the help of a public relations firm in organizing an online slander campaign against rival milk product firm Yili.
At the meeting Monday, representatives from 140 major Chinese websites signed a self-discipline pact, vowing to never organize or take part in any form of illegal publicity on the Internet.
The websites represented include www.sohu.com, www.netease.com, www.sina.com, www.qq.com, Chinese language search giant www.baidu.com, video-sharing database www.youku.com, and the social networking service (SNS) www.kaixin001.com.
The Internet Society of China (ISC), which worked out the pact with the websites, is calling on all Internet participators, organizations and individuals to fight illegal online publicity practices, said Ma Ning, general secretary of ISC, while addressing the meeting.
Ma said the move aims to form an Internet environment showcasing the values of integrity and civility, which is favorable for the Internet industry's healthy development.
Among the representatives from website firms, Wen Yonggang, deputy general manager of the national web-based broadcaster China Network Television (CNTV), said illegal online publicity jeopardizes people's right to know the truth and undermines the public's trust in Internet-based communication.
Li Fang, deputy editor-in-chief of www.qq.com, a website under China's biggest instant messenger service provider Tencent, Inc., said his website will fight any publicity activity that goes against the rules of online transparency and fairness or violates the media code of conduct.
Furthermore, Li Bin, general manager of www.cqnews.net, a provincial-level online news portal based in the southwest municipality of Chongqing, said his website will arrange for more training to increase the awareness and capabilities of its editors cracking down on illegal online publicity.
China launched a two-month campaign in the middle of April to crack down on illegal publicity activities on the Internet.
Also on Monday, officials from the Ministry of Industry and Information technology, Ministry of Public Security, Ministry of Culture and the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, attended a video conference on building a healthy Internet environment.
Government departments should instruct website operators to observe their social responsibilities and eliminate online contents involving pornography, violence, fraud and vulgarity, said a statement issued after the conference.
The statement further said authorities will continue to crack down on online pornographic and vulgar contents and will launch a special investigation into Internet cafes.
Moreover, efforts should be made to foster a healthy concept and self-discipline among netizens to let them take more initiatives in the building of a healthy Internet environment, the statement said.
The statement added that authorities should encourage the public to report online violations of laws and regulations.
The number of people using the Internet rose to 457 million at the end of 2010, up 73.3 million from the previous year, according to an earlier report issued by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC).