By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch, Asia
BEIJING, China – Two Beijing newspapers, Beijing Times and Beijing News, have been placed under the control of the Chinese Communist Party’s local propaganda department.
According to Qianlong, a website controlled and operated by the Chinese government, the newspapers were taken over in an attempt to control in an advertising war waged between them and to increase the influence and competitiveness of The Beijing News.
Critics; however, view the move as retribution for the outspoken and critical articles that both newpapers have become notorious for producing. One of the affected newspaper employees expressed concern at the affect the takeover will have by stating that “it means there will be so much we can’t do. Before there was news that other papers couldn’t do but we could.”
Prior to coming under the control of the Chinese government, Beijing News and Beijing Times were both overseen by the state-level Central Publicity Department which left them essentially untouched by the directives given by Beijing city authorities and thus more capable of candid reporting.
As a result both papers became well-known for consistently publishing stories, many of which other media outlets were prohibited from covering, that were critical of local government’s around China.
Many journalists are alleging that this candid reporting is what led to the takeover. One example of the critical reporting done by the two newly censored papers was the high-speed train crash that occurred in Wenzhou in July and in which the papers harshly criticized the government’s response and poor safety standards.
In addition, Beijing News and Beijing Times both covered the controversial topic of school closures for the children of migrant workers in Beijing which has angered many human rights groups. According to a reporter at Beijing News, Beijing’s propaganda authorities had contacted the central publicity department several times to complain about what it perceived to be negative coverage.
Media analyst Wen Yunchao stated that “it’s been a headache for the Beijing propaganda authorities that they didn’t directly control the two newspapers.” According to Wen , prior to the takeover the Beijing propaganda authorities could only influence the content of the papers if they were assisted by the central publicity department but the new takeover will allow content to be controlled with greater ease.
Media experts, including Wen Yunchao, expect that the takeover will cause news content to rapidly change to alter coverage on sensitive and controversial topics in a way that will portray the Chinese government more favorably.
Fear of increased government crackdown on dissent is further fueled by the recent discovery that Chinese authorities are considering a law that would allow individuals to be detained for up to six months without notification being given to family members.
Chinese authorities have denied allegations of a crackdown and have said that the editorial policies and senior staff would remain the same.
For more information, please see:
NDT – Propaganda Bureau Takes Over Two Beijing Newspapers – 6 September 2011
The Guardian – Propaganda Bureau Takes Control of Two Beijing Newspapers – 3 September 2011
The Diplomat – Beijing Papers Taken Over – 4 September 2011
Radio Free Asia – Newspapers Face New Controls – 4 September 2011