Stick to sports and lifestyle, newspapers told Mainland censors are tightening their grip on the media and limiting negative news reports, especially on food safety, following the punishment dished out to Beijing Television for a bogus report about the sale of cardboard-stuffed buns. The Publicity Department of the Beijing Municipal Party Committee, the city's top censorship body, has ordered a popular tabloid, the Beijing Daily Messenger, to scrap its political and social pages and instead cover entertainment and lifestyle stories. An estimated one-third of the newspaper's 100 or so reporters will lose their jobs when the 40-page daily shrinks, as expected, to 32 pages starting tomorrow. The First, a daily launched in December 2004, has also come under pressure from Beijing censors to focus only on sports, but a formal order has not been handed down. Other newspapers under the control of the Beijing propaganda authorities like Beijing Youth Daily and Beijing Evening News have also been warned against running negative news, even negative reports reprinted from newspapers in other regions. 'It's impossible to do stories about food safety now. You have to get the approval of the propaganda department,' a Beijing reporter said. Reporters with New Beijing News and Beijing Times, the only two newspapers in Beijing not controlled by the municipal propaganda department, said they had not received an official notice but had been lectured about safeguarding the authenticity of news reports. The decision on media control was made during two meetings of the Beijing propaganda department last week, after a freelance reporter for Beijing Television was arrested and several executives censured or sacked for bogus footage of a street vendor stuffing steamed buns with chemically treated cardboard. The report came amid a flurry of real food scares about products such as toxic fish and poisonous pet food that have tarnished the mainland's reputation Ironically, the Beijing Daily Messenger was the only Beijing newspaper not to pursue the cardboard-buns story, even after it was picked up by Beijing and state media, including Central China Television. Media sources speculated that the Beijing Daily Messenger bore the brunt of the media clampdown because it had always been obedient and was therefore an easy target. It was merged into the Beijing Daily Group, which is under the direct control of the municipal propaganda department, in November 2004. 'Obviously, the Beijing Daily Messenger has become the scapegoat for the bogus buns scandal because the municipal propaganda department is trying to satisfy the central government's propaganda department,' a senior Beijing journalist said. The Daily Messenger reporters who have been told to leave are mostly recent recruits and non-contracted workers. They said they were still waiting to be reassigned to other newspapers or laid off. 'Seven of the 13 reporters in our department will leave. More details about compensation and reassignment will be discussed after the approval of the municipal officials,' a reporter on the paper's political and social news desk said. The newspaper plans to retain only one news page, down from 16, when the new edition goes on sale tomorrow. Weekly Quality Report, the CCTV programme famous for exposing food safety problems, has toned down its reports with the latest two broadcasts teaching people how to drink milk correctly and how to tell real honey from fake. An internal document issued by Shanghai censors and circulated among Shanghai press has ordered all reports related to food safety to be held unless they are confirmed by the local food quality administration bureau, a source said.