BEIJING — The storm that ravaged Beijing nearly a week ago and killed at least 77 people remains a sensitive topic in China, with a newspaper ordered to cut its coverage and online discussions curtailed.
Directed by propaganda officials, mainstream media have been focusing on positive aspects of the storm, such as rescue efforts, heroic civilian acts, and sacrifices by uniformed officials. But those who want to raise questions on the city’s handling of the disaster and its drainage system have come under pressure.
Southern Weekly, an influential newspaper known for its edgy reporting, canceled four pages of storm coverage this week, and the newspaper — together with Beijing’s former and acting mayors, and the deaths in Fangshan, the hardest-hit district in Beijing, were all blocked on China’s most popular microblogging site, Sina Weibo, on Friday.
The censorship comes during a personnel reshuffling in the city government of the capital as China braces for the once-in-a-decade power handover to the next generation of leaders. That takes place when the Communist Party holds its congress later this year, with banners around the city already calling for the creation of a stable environment for the meeting.
Officials have kept information tight, mindful that any failure to cope with the flooding could reflect badly on the country’s leadership.
China’s Communist government has justified its one-party rule in part by delivering economic growth and maintaining stability and acting quickly to manage disasters like the June 21 flooding.
Chinese officials usually limit coverage of disasters, but one media analyst said authorities may have expanded that for the floods because the questions about death tolls are happening against the backdrop of an ill-timed city power shift, with Beijing’s mayor and vice mayor resigning Wednesday.
The outgoing mayor, Guo Jinlong, who was promoted to the city’s most senior post of Communist Party secretary, is expected to join the central government’s top 25-member politburo at the fall congress.
‘‘It’s kind of a perfect storm in terms of press control,’’ David Bandurski, a researcher at Hong Kong-based China Media Project, said of the timing of the disaster so close to the party congress.
A journalist close to the Southern Weekly told the Associated Press that the newspaper killed four pages of storm coverage this week after provincial propaganda officials and corporate management intervened. He requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.