China's top market regulator calls for crackdown on online ad content

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China’s top market regulator on Friday demanded online platforms police advertisements more closely, marking another effort from the government to clean up “illegal” web content.

China’s State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR), a body under the State Council, issued a public notice calling on local authorities to “seriously investigate” advertisements involving political sensitivities and vulgar content.

Specifically, the body called for increased scrutiny toward advertisements making guarantees or exaggerations about health foods and medicinal products, or promoting “risk-free or guaranteed interest financial investments.”

It also called for investigation into advertisements that “create vile impacts on society.”

The regulator cited web portals, search engines, e-commerce sites, and small online media outlets as targets.

Online advertisements have been a sore subject for some of China’s internet companies.

In 2016, search giant Baidu Inc faced a massive scandal when a student battling cancer died after seeking treatment from a hospital offering a false remedy it advertised on the site.

China’s top internet regulator went on to claim that the company’s search results “had an impact” on the student’s death and demanded it reduce the numbers of paid promotions on its search listings.

Since then, false advertising has remained a perennial subject for China’s regulators. In 2017, an editorial in China’s People’s Daily, a state-backed newspaper, called false advertising a “malignant tumor.”

Reporting by Josh Horwitz; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier