BEIJING--The media in China, more partial to towing the official party line than upsetting the apple cart, is caught up in a rare storm of denunciations and apologies.
At the heart of the squabble is rampant official corruption, but observers say the bickering also seems to reflect growing conflict over policy lines among the highest echelons of Beijing's leadership, which will be replaced in autumn.
"In no country can corruption be eradicated," said a May 29 commentary in Global Times, a newspaper affiliated with the People's Daily, mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China.
"The key lies in suppressing (corruption) to a level that the public can tolerate," it said.
The article went on to solicit public understanding for the current status of a crackdown on corruption by the authorities.
"The civil sector should, in principle, understand the objective reality that, at the present stage, China cannot thoroughly eliminate corruption," it said.
China Youth Daily, the organ of the Communist Youth League of China, an elite training organization run by the Communist Party, printed an article two days later under the headline, "Anti-corruption is impossible without institution(-building) and democracy."
"The central leadership has emphasized ... that there should be zero tolerance for corruption," it said. "Zero tolerance for corruption should be our age's universal value."
China Youth Daily went on to denounce the Global Times by name. "One can find out quite a number of stupefyingly wrong arguments (in the article)," it went on.
China's media as a whole, including the People's Daily, are supervised by Li Changchun, a member of the Standing Committee of the Communist Party's Central Committee Politburo, who ranks fifth in the party hierarchy.
Observers say it is unusual for an organ such as the Communist Youth League of China, which nurtured Hu Jintao, China's president, to criticize media supervised by Li.
The authorities clamped down on free speech after imprisoned writer Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in December 2010.
But this past spring, Bo Xilai, a leading conservative who served as secretary of the party municipal committee in the southwestern city of Chongqing, fell from power amid astonishing revelations.
China-watchers suggest that reformists, who had been biding their time, are now back on the offensive against conservative media.
The Global Times commentary drew even more attention the day after it appeared.
QQ.com, one of the two major portal sites for "weibo" microblogging services--China's answer to Twitter--on May 30 issued a statement of apology to Global Times.
QQ had re-posted the Global Times article on anti-corruption under a shortened headline saying that people must know China cannot eradicate corruption.
"Revision of the original headline ... has invited the wrong sort of influence," the statement said.
On May 29, the president of The Time Weekly newspaper visited the head office of Beijing Daily, the organ of the Communist Party's Beijing municipal committee, to extend an apology. A round-table talk, printed in The Time Weekly, had negatively commented on Beijing Daily's May 18 article that carried the headline: "Singing the main melody is the social responsibility of Chinese media."
The Time Weekly article cited the name of Beijing Daily's president and said his viewpoint was more in tune with the era of the chaotic Cultural Revolution that raged for a decade from 1966.
Both QQ and The Time Weekly are based in Guangdong province, which has a reputation for tolerating freedom of speech.
Both publications boldly challenged the conservative tones of mainstream media but then caved in.
Well-placed sources said authorities had urged The Time Weekly to issue the apology, in an apparent gambit to help conservative elements.
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