The Beijing Times and the Beijing News, two influential newspapers that have made a name for themselves for their bold reporting have been taken over by the city’s propaganda bureau.
Tania Branigan of The Guardian writes:
Some journalists blamed the development on official anger at the reporting of the fatal high-speed train crash in Wenzhou in July, although others believe it reflects a broader struggle over control of the media.
“It means there will be so much we can’t do,” an employee of one of the affected titles said. “[Before] there was news that other papers couldn’t do but we could.”
Searches for Beijing News and Beijing Times on Sina’s popular microblogging service appeared to be blocked. One journalist who posted about the change received a message from the service ordering him to delete the post or lose his account.
Previously, the papers were overseen by state level propaganda authorities. Journalists fear the switch may also restrict their ability to cover events in the capital and sensitive news from other areas.
According to Hong Kong-based media watcher Wen Yunchao, it had always been a source of great annoyance for Beijing authorities not to have direct control of the two papers and to have to rely on the central publicity department to influence editorial content.
The papers’ bold coverage of the Wenzhou train collision might have been a catalyst for the change. In response to a gag order by state censors, the Beijing News ran a front page story on a precious ceramic dish at the Forbidden City breaking into six pieces, and this was read by many as an oblique reference to the train crash in Wenzhou.