Propaganda chiefs in Yunnan province raised fears of a further clampdown on press freedom with a scheme to recruit 'volunteers' to watch over media outlets and reporters.
The provincial propaganda department advertised in several outlets including Yunnan Daily and Yunnan TV, late last month, to recruit 100 volunteers for the supervisory work.
'The initiative is aimed at improving media supervision and clamping down on paid journalism, untruthful reporting as well as vulgarity in the media and advertisements,' the publicity department was quoted by official media as saying.
The move kicked up a storm of criticism among the mainland's internet users, who questioned the role volunteers could play given the heavy influence the government already exerts.
Propaganda officials would not reveal exactly what the volunteers would do once they had been assigned to their respective media outlets, nor who they would report to.
The volunteers would be recruited from all sectors of society, with about half holding degrees.
Some criticisms have been targeted at Wu Hao, the high-profile deputy chief of the provincial propaganda department.
Wu, a former senior editor with Xinhua, shot to notoriety after his department's botched handling of the death of a man in a police cell last year, which was initially blamed on a game of 'hide-and-seek'.
Faced with public doubts over this claim, Wu organised a group of citizen investigators for an independent inquiry into the case.
It emerged that some of the 'investigators' had been hand-picked by Wu and his department.
Wu organised a news briefing on Monday to calm fears over the new scheme.
'A volunteer supervision mechanism is for self-discipline, not a consolidation of government control over the media,' he was quoted as saying by China Youth Daily.