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LinkAsia | Mar 4
A side effect of rapid industrialization and few regulations, China's rivers are often treated as little more than sewers. But as LinkAsia contribu...
Last week, two of China's boldest newspapers were taken over by the Beijing Propaganda Department. The Beijing Times and Beijing News are known for their gutsy, critical content and investigative reporting. According to our contributor in Beijing, Charlie Custer, netizens are now worried that Beijing's sharpest newspapers may be losing their teeth.
Last week, rumors began to spread on Sina Weibo that the Beijing News and the Beijing Times were to be transferred to the control of the Beijing Municipal Propaganda Department. As part of its new rumor-busting drive, Sina blocked searches for the two newspapers and deleted tweets spreading the news. But these "rumors" turned out to be true, and the story was soon confirmed by media professionals and others. There's speculation that the move was the result of critical coverage of July's deadly high-speed train wreck in Wenzhou, which drew unprecedented harsh criticism, some even from some of China's state media outlets. The Beijing propaganda department has said the move is designed to make the papers "more influential," whatever that means. The transfer of power will occur over the next month, and the new bosses have said they won't change editorial policy. But people are already concerned that the Beijing News and the Beijing Times may never be the same. One Weibo user wonders: "Will this mean the disappearance of another newspaper that dared to speak out?" Another is more certain: "The propaganda department can now directly issue propaganda orders; without a doubt this will reduce their coverage of negative news in the city; additionally, their reporting of negative issues outside the city will fall under strict regulations for 'outside reporting.' Two papers that dared to speak have been thoroughly fixed, and now their reporting can only trend towards being conservative and positive." But Sina isn't just deleting rumors. One user posted a comment offering predictions about the change: "This is just the beginning of a tightening of media supervision," he wrote. "The advertisements in these papers will decline as their content declines. Good reporters will leave, some will move to the internet. The more things like this happen, the more high-level users are going to trust in internet public opinion." But the day after we found this comment, it disappeared, apparently deleted by Sina's censors. Readers of both the Beijing News and the Beijing Times are waiting to see how the papers will change under their new leaders. Many in China's social media are expecting any changes will not be for the good. In Beijing, I'm Charlie Custer for LinkAsia.