Authorities in China have placed two popular Beijing papers under the supervision of the dominant Chinese Communist Party's local propaganda department, prompting fears the papers will face even tighter censorship.
Beijing News and Beijing Times, previously under the control of state-level propaganda authorities, will now be supervised by the publicity department of the Beijing Municipal Communist Party Committee.
A group of officials from the municipal publicity department announced the change to the staff of Beijing News on Friday morning, according to the South China Morning Post, a leading newspaper in Hong Kong.
Despite being positioned as city dailies, both papers used to be overseen by the state-level central publicity department, which made them free from reporting directives issued by the Beijing city authorities, the Post said.
Critics fear the change will restrict the papers’ ability to provide any negative coverage on sensitive local events about other local governments.
“Originally, Beijing municipality had no authority over these two newspapers, but now it does. It means that local Beijing news will be subject to local government control,” said Li Datong, a Chinese media critic and former editor at the China Youth Daily.
Both Beijing News and Beijing Times had published controversial issues on local governments across China and in the nation’s capital, such as the recent closing of schools for children of migrant workers in Beijing.
Beijing News is part of the Guangming Daily Group and Beijing Times is part of the People’s Daily Group, whose flagship People's Daily is the official Communist Party mouthpiece.
Staff at the two newspapers contacted by RFA refused to comment on the issue.
Rumors about the move appeared on Sina Weibo, China’s popular microblogging service, on Thursday evening, and by Friday, searches for “Beijing News” and “Beijing Times” on the site appeared to be blocked.
A reporter at Beijing News said propaganda authorities were furious about its coverage of the fatal Wenzhou train crash in July and ordered it to heavily censor the reporting afterwards, according to the Post. He said Beijing's propaganda authorities had complained many times to the central publicity department about the paper's alleged "negative coverage".
Chen Yongmiao, former editor at the Beijing News and media critic, said the changes highlight tighter management.
“With the Beijing Times, as you can see, the Nanfang Daily Group [a previous partner] gradually withdrew its management and it became managed by the Guangming Daily Group, and gradually it slid into being under the management of the Beijing propaganda department as it is today.”
One Chinese media observer explained, “Five years ago there was a wave of publishing reform, and cooperation among newspapers across regions, across managements units and levels, between national and local, and between local [newspapers] was encouraged.
"But now we might say this is being reversed, and localized management is being implemented.”
Reported by Ding Xiao for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.