BEIJING (Reuters) - China has ordered a further crackdown on its domestic media, telling news organizations to sack illegally recruited employees and close local offices if they have too many of them, state news agency Xinhua reported.
State media has been the key vehicle for party propaganda, but reforms over the past decade have allowed greater commercialization and some increase in editorial independence.
But China media watchers say corruption has become a problem, with blackmail a widespread practise in the domestic press and journalists being susceptible to bribes.
At the same time, President Xi Jinping has overseen a sweeping tightening of controls over what state-run media can report, as part of a broader campaign against anyone seen challenging the ruling Communist Party.
News organizations at all levels have now been urged to "shut down local offices that fail to meet standards and dismiss unlawfully recruited employees", Xinhua said in a report late on Wednesday, citing a joint statement from the party propaganda office, media and internet regulators.
"Some news groups have too many local offices and employ personnel through unofficial channels, resulting in frequent illegal acts that severely undermine the spirit of journalism, harm the authority and credibility of news and lead to grave social consequences," Xinhua cited the statement as saying.
"Key news websites supervised by central authorities must gain approval to set up sub-sites for local regions. Illegal websites or offices must be shut down by the end of March," it added.
In September, executives of a respected business newspaper website confessed on state television that they extorted "huge payments" from companies that planned to list in exchange for quashing critical stories.
There has also been crackdown at the main state broadcaster CCTV, where prosecutors have detained a top news anchor and a senior executive is being investigated on suspicion of bribery.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry)