A NEW YORK TIMES exposé on the riches amassed by the family of the Premier, Wen Jiabao, shows how foreign media could now play a ''transformational'' role in Chinese politics and policymaking, says a new report.
But it is too early to tell whether such reports will be embraced, repressed or simply become pawns in elite politicking, says the Conference Board, a respected global non-profit group that compiles data and advises many of the world's top multinational companies.
Last week, the Times cited Chinese corporate records that documented how Mr Wen's mother, wife and son had amassed assets totalling $2.7 billion.
It followed a similarly forensic report by Bloomberg in June on the extended family of the president-in-waiting, Xi Jinping, which uncovered assets that tallied to well over a billion dollars.
Both the New York Times and Bloomberg websites were immediately blocked in China, and remain so.
Other foreign media exposé´s this year include revelations that Englishman Neil Heywood was murdered by the wife of the then Politburo member Bo Xilai.
Together, these reports have sat awkwardly with the Communist Party's utopian mission and its dogged resistance to institutional reforms to increase accountability.
''We are entering a new era of insight into the inner workings of China's business system, the Party, and its leaders,'' says the report, The Fourth Estate and China's Reform Agenda.
''While all agree that China's top-tier political processes remain among the most opaque in the world, the level of media exposure to which top-tier behaviour is now exposed is unprecedented,'' it said.
''It is the dual forces of gangly, uncontrollable domestic social media and investigative global media that are taking the lead role.''
Within China, however, the October 26 exposé´ of Mr Wen's family wealth has been roundly seen as part of a political conspiracy to undermine him personally or his platform for political reform, just weeks away from what is shaping up to be an epic but fraught leadership transition on November 15.
Questions and conspiracy theories abound.
''Why was this trouble brought just before the 18th Party Congress?'' the son of a former vice-premier, who has no particular allegiance to Mr Wen or his colleagues, asked Fairfax this week.
''Is it an attempt to impact Chinese politics and create instability? And why is it Wen Jiabao - when there are so many who are corrupt in China?''
The Times journalist David Barboza has held public internet forums to dispel conspiracy theories, explaining how he had begun looking at several elite families a year ago and that it was the Wen family that generated the most leads.
''Why now? Because it took that long to gather and evaluate the evidence,'' Barboza said.
The People's Daily ran a popular report slamming the Times for its history of ''faking'' and ''distorting'' news.
The People's Daily report itself, however, turned out to be plagiarised.
China's secret intelligence officials have also stepped up monitoring of foreign journalists and their assistants, as they brace for the next revelation.
The Conference Board report, released to members on Thursday, says the new inroads by Chinese social media users and foreign journalists left the party with only two options.
The first is to ''surrender'' to the information age and the ideals of an open economy and society.
The other short-term option, it says, is to shut down the channels of information.