China's powerful propaganda department has moved to dampen a flurry of speculation in the country's tightly controlled state media after the sudden detention of one of the country's top news anchors amid an ongoing graft probe.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party's Central Propaganda Department issued a directive banning news organizations "hyping up" coverage linked to the detention of top state broadcaster CCTV's economic news anchor Rui Chenggang, after he was detained ahead of the show on Friday, leaving his co-host sitting next to an empty chair.
Reports suggest Rui, 37, is connected to other senior figures in CCTV who were detained over an ongoing graft probe last month, including channel chief Guo Zhenxi.
"News of the investigation of Rui Chenggang should not be on the double homepages [main and news]," the leaked directive, translated and published by the China Digital News (CDT) website, said.
"Do not hype related content," the directive, dated July 12, 2014, said.
China's Supreme People's Procuratorate, or state prosecutor, announced it was investigating Guo, along with producer Tian Liwu, for graft on June 1, official media reported.
On June 6, the authorities also detained producer Wang Shijie, a second news anchor and writer-director, the cutting-edge news portal Caixin reported, after Rui's assistant had tried to quash rampant speculation that Rui would be next.
Eight held so far
Rui's detention, which came alongside that of channel vice director Li Yong and another unnamed producer on Friday, brings to eight the number of CCTV financial news channel staff currently in detention, Caixin said.
It said Rui's family is believed to have run a public relations firm which charged people to be interviewed by Rui on CCTV.
Hong Kong-based independent investigative journalist Li Jianjun, who formerly worked on a number of official newspapers, said Rui's sudden removal from the airwaves highlights the tangled relationship between media and state power in China.
"Unlike the Western media, media organizations in China aren't independent," Li said. "The Western media...oversees those in power, while the Chinese media is part of government power, and dependent on it."
"Given this situation, it's not at all surprising to me that something like this could happen," he said. "What happened to Rui Chenggang isn't unusual at all."
Arbitrary nature of anti-graft campaign
Meanwhile, Yuan Gulai, a lawyer based in the eastern province of Zhejiang, said the high-profile arrest also highlights the political and sometimes arbitrary nature of President Xi Jinping's campaign against graft.
"There are a lot of cases like this, where one day a person can be happily towing the party line on the fight against corruption, and doing news reports, and the next [they have been detained]," Yuan said.
"The trouble with the anti-corruption campaign...is that it can land on anyone at any time. It's as if they pull your name out of a hat,"
He said most people with any power in China are corrupt to some degree, making campaigns more a method of selection than an investigation to locate suspects.
"People can be outed in any circumstances and it doesn't even look strange any more. People have become inured to it," Yuan said. "This is a phenomenon that arises from a loss of effective supervision methods over those in power."
President Xi has launched a nationwide anti-graft crackdown, targeting high-ranking "tigers" and low-ranking "flies," since coming to power in November 2012.
But the party regards any popular involvement in the anti-corruption campaign as highly sensitive and potentially threatening, and has sentenced a number of activists to jail for calling on officials to reveal their wealth.
And officials with friends in the right places are unlikely to be touched by the crackdown, and reports suggest many are liquidating their assets and making moves overseas, analysts say.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.