Media that are not designated 'official' should operate according to a market-oriented model, with official media remaining as propaganda mouthpieces and performing ideological control functions, said the chief of the mainland's press and publications watchdog.
The two-layer model of supervision was mentioned by General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) director Liu Binjie in an interview on Xinhua.com. He discussed the state of the industry, saying governors had realised that reform was needed 'to change the traditional media control mechanism'.
'We now acknowledge that because the press and publication industry has two functions and two natures, it leads to the decision that the industry should operate in two directions,' said Mr Liu.
The press and publications industry is state-owned and controlled by various levels of Communist Party and departmental agencies, but many city and independent media outlets are following a more commercial model.
'For the major state media such as Xinhua, the People's Daily and China Central Television, their priority is to serve as the mouthpiece for the party and the people,' Mr Liu said. 'By this very nature, they cannot develop in whatever way the market requires - it's impossible.
'On the other hand, the other types of media should satisfy more diversified demands from people from different groups, with different professions, culture, education and social statuses ... And they should be reformed and throw themselves into market competition.'
Renmin University journalism school dean Yu Guoming said: 'Liu's idea was a minor stream in censors' debates five years ago. Now Liu has stated it's a mainstream official line by allowing limited freedom to news outlets on non-political issues.
'It's wise for Mr Liu, as an industry governor, to emphasise the role of the market. By acknowledging the market-oriented nature, some commercial media can acquire more freedom ... to better satisfy readers' demand for quality printed products, and leave the propaganda function to party newspapers such as the People's Daily, which, in reality, has been abandoned by readers.'
Jinan University journalism school dean Fan Yijin viewed Mr Liu's remarks as a progression that 'officially made it clear that the authority admits the diversity of media and extends media's role beyond the rigid propaganda methodology'.
But China Youth Politics Institute journalism dean Zhan Jiang interpreted Mr Liu's remarks as a repeat of President Hu Jintao's line, voiced last summer on a visit to People.com.cn.
'The reality is, the media can be rather free and even vulgar in its coverage of non-political issues, but the media is still regarded as a mouthpiece in all state interest-related issues,' Professor Zhan said.
'The GAPP is just an industry watchdog ... The press' ideological propaganda function is really decided and controlled by the central propaganda department. That reality won't change.'