BEIJING—Authorities ordered one of China’s most prominent business news websites to close Thursday after its managers were accused of extorting money from companies with threats of negative coverage.
The penalties follow the September detention of the publisher and general manager of the website’s parent newspaper, the 21st Century Business Herald. That was one of the highest-profile scandals in a Chinese news industry that has been wracked by repeated allegations of misconduct.
Companies were coerced into paying the 21st Century Business Herald a total of about 300 million yuan ($50 million) for advertising over several years and were threatened with negative news coverage if they refused, according to earlier reports.
The national press regulator said the website, 21cbh.com, would be suspended and a magazine owned by the company, Money Weekly, stripped of its publishing license. The newspaper was ordered to undergo a management overhaul.
Also Thursday, state mouthpiece Xinhua News Agency said prosecutors approved the formal arrest of 21 people. It gave no details of their identities or the charges.
The newspaper is part of the Nanfang Media Group, one of China’s biggest publishing companies.
All newspapers, television and radio stations and other news media in China are owned by the state or by the ruling Communist Party. But most are required to support themselves financially and are allowed to make editorial decisions within the party’s censorship guidelines.
Journalists routinely accept money from companies to report on events and sometimes seek payments to suppress negative information.
In a separate case, the director of the financial news channel of state television is accused of extracting money from companies, according to news reports. Companies paid to avoid negative news coverage or bought advertising or gave stock options for favorable exposure.