The appointment of an outsider as the top party official at Guangzhou-based Nanfang Media Group has raised concern whether there will be a tighter grip over the popular outspoken media outlets.
Yang Jian, deputy chief of the Guangdong Communist Party propaganda department, was recently named the party boss at Nanfang Media, replacing Yang Xingfeng, who would remain as group president, said Beijing-based Century Weekly magazine in an online report.
Before the reshuffle, Yang Jian had been Xinhua's Guangdong bureau chief before taking the helm at the provincial Radio, Film and Television Administration in 2007.
The report quoted an unidentified source at the press group who said Yang Jian's appointment had deviated from the normal practice of filling top posts internally.
Yang Xingfeng and his predecessor Fan Yijin had worked for Nanfang for many years before being promoted to party secretary of the group.
Two of the mainland's most outspoken and respected newspapers, Southern Weekend and Southern Metropolis Daily are sister publications of the flagship Nanfang Daily.
A source familiar with the group said yesterday that the latest appointments could result in a tighter control over the prominent newspapers, especially in the run-up to the politically sensitive Communist Party's 18th National Congress this autumn.
However, Hong Kong-based China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said it was too early to draw a conclusion about Yang Jian's appointment.
'It's going too far to say a party cadre must be conservative by nature,' said Lau. 'For instance, Hu Jiwei , a former chief editor of People's Daily, and Du Daozhen , a former director of the General Administration of Press and Publications, both turned out to be liberal-minded, pro-democratic officials.
'That's why we need to wait and see before trying to guess what influence Yan Jian will have.'
Meanwhile, the deputy head of Xinhua, Tuo Zhen, has been transferred to the Guangdong Communist Party Standing Committee.
Given his extensive media experience, Tuo is likely to succeed Lin Xiong as the propaganda chief at the provincial party congress later this month.
As a former secretary to Premier Wen Jiabao, Lin has been tipped to become executive vice-governor in Guangdong, replacing Xiao Zhiheng, who will soon retire.