The Beijing propaganda bureau has taken control of two influential newspapers, prompting fears that they will be more strictly censored.
Officials announced the move to reporters on the Beijing Times and the Beijing News — known for its bold reporting — at meetings on Friday.
Some journalists blamed the move on official anger at the reporting of the fatal high-speed train crash in Wenzhou in July; 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.
The South China Morning Post said a group of officials headed by Lu Wei, deputy chief of the municipal publicity department, told Beijing News reporters that the move was intended to make the paper more influential.
They denied rumours of a crackdown and said its editorial policies and senior staff would remain the same, although many employees on the two papers are expecting changes.
“It’s been a headache for the Beijing propaganda authorities that they didn’t directly control the two newspapers,” Wen Yunchao, a Hong Kong-based media analyst, told the South China Morning Post.