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Observers fear investigation intended as warning to other media

The general manager of a cutting-edge newspaper in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou is being investigated for corruption amid fears that the newspaper is being targeted indirectly for its hard-hitting approach to news, RFA's Mandarin service reports.

The Guangdong provincial news bureau issued the barest confirmation last month that Yu Huafeng, general manager of the Southern City News , but other government officials refused to give any further details, reinforcing concerns that the province may be cracking down on media organizations that report sensitive stories.

"I can't talk to you about that," an official at the Guangzhou city investigation department said when contacted by RFA's Hong Kong correspondent Ye Ming. "You can try to find out using other channels."

According to a report in the Hong Kong-based Ming Pao newspaper , Yu and some of his colleagues at the paper will be formally charged with corruption-related crimes. But Chinese media analysts say the veil of secrecy surrounding the case suggests officials are unwilling to stand up to scrutiny.

"When the media attempts to clarify the case with relevant government agencies but are met with closed doors, claiming ignorance or with a display of reluctance, it clearly indicates there must be something fishy going on," Ma Xiaoming, former reporter with state television in the northern province of Shaanxi.

"If the true cause is to fight corruption and eliminate other criminal activities, then it should be a good thing. It should be widely broadcast with enthusiasm and revealed to the public with confidence so that the public can understand the situation," Ma said.

In changes announced in Guangdong on Jan. 8, former provincial propaganda chief Cai Dongshi was promoted to deputy provincial head of the Communist Party committee, a vice ministerial posting, while Zhu Xiaodan was named head of the province's propaganda work.

The promotions came soon after the detention for questioning for one day of Cheng Yizhong, editor-in-chief of the Southern City News , which was first to report China's first new case of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) since July.

Chinese media commentators and overseas rights groups linked Cheng's detention and questioning to a provincial crackdown on press freedom, saying that the corruption investigation was a way of warning the media to be careful about reporting sensitive stories.

Since Southern City News broke the story of the first new SARS case, the government has ordered all SARS-related news to be coordinated by the central government and be reported at the same time. Since then, it has fallen to the Hong Kong media to take the lead in reporting new SARS cases and other sensitive stories. #####


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