China's leading internet portals have been ordered to stop their original news reporting, as President Xi Jinping's government further tightens its control over the country's information industry.
The Cyberspace Administration of China, the nation's internet regulator, ordered major online companies such as NetEase and Sohu to dismantle their current affairs operations on Friday, having already demanded Tencent, Asia's biggest internet company, cease similar activity.
The companies were said to have "seriously violated" regulations by carrying original reporting that causes "huge negative effects".
It has been illegal to hire reporters or publish content from autonomous news sources since 2005, but the rule has rarely been enforced.
While the likes of Tencent had built independent news operations, they will now only be permitted to carry reports from government-controlled print or online media, according to Bloomberg.
The crackdown seems likely to have been triggered by coverage of the recent flooding in northern China, which has officially killed 130 people and caused $2.4bn in damages in the Heibei province alone. Videos of dead bodies floating in ditches and landslides were heavily shared online.
The move will give the Communist Party almost total control over news and political discourse in the country – President Xi Jinping had previously emphasised how the media must serve the interests of the Chinese government.
When touring the organs of China's propaganda machine – China Central Television, the People's Daily newspaper and Xinhua news agency – four months ago, the President had told the organisations to "tell China's stories well".
In May, government officials were found to have been issuing verbal warnings to economic analysts and journalists who were going against the official positive spin the country is putting on the economy.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the Chinese government had put pressure on them to disseminate "positive energy" in an attempt to alleviate the public's concerns over reports that China's economy is facing massive debts and a hard economic landing.
Qiao Mu, a journalism professor in Beijing, told the Financial Times that any negative media coverage in the country is currently seen as particularly damaging in the lead-up to the Party Congress in 2017 that will see Xi officially given his second five-year term.
“In recent years, the situation for online media has significantly worsened. The government does not want these platforms to provide their own news.
"They are only allowed to forward reports by outlets like Xinhua and the People’s Daily.”