Two of Beijing’s most popular and outspoken newspapers have been taken over by the Chinese Communist Party in a move that is inevitably going to be seen as part of a broader crackdown on dissent.
According to a report on the government-operated Qianlong website quoted by AFP, The Beijing News and the Beijing Times, both known for regularly running stories ‘critical of local governments around China, as well as articles that defy edicts issued by the party’s propaganda bureau ordering media to show Chinese society in a positive light,’ have now been taken over by CCP media authorities.
According to Qianlong, the move has in part been motivated by a desire to rein in an advertising war between the two publications. However, the decision has already been met with criticism from bloggers who see it as part and parcel of the Chinese government’s crackdown on critical voices in the country.
The South China Post, meanwhile, notes that ‘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.’
It says that the decision was announced at an internal meeting held at The Beijing News offices by a group of seven or eight officials headed by Lu Wei, who is deputy chief of the municipal publicity department.
Officials in the South China Post report were keen to stress that the move was aimed at making The Beijing News more competitive. But it comes in the same week that international media reported that China is mulling changes to its residential surveillance laws that would effectively allow the detention of dissidents in secret locations. Indeed, according to Kelley Currie, a senior fellow and China specialist at the Project 2049 Institute, such ‘changes,’ although technically a tightening of the rules, are ‘actually just window dressing for something that already goes on.’
‘They already do this, even though the law doesn't really allow it,’ she told me. ‘So this would just have the effect of bringing this essentially lawless behaviour, that is contrary to basic universal human rights standards, under Chinese law and creating a legal framework for repression.’
The takeover of the newspapers appears to be yet another step in what has been an intensifying crackdown on dissent in China, a crackdown that has included the roundup of activists and lawyers, as well as heavy security presences at potential flashpoints.