Minitrue: Media Directives on Tianjin Port Explosions

The following censorship instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online. The name of one issuing body has been partially omitted to protect the source.

Cyberspace Administration of China: Standard sources must be used regarding the in Tianjin’s Tanggu Open Economic Zone. Use only copy from Xinhua and authoritative departments and media. Websites cannot privately gather information on the accident, and when publishing news cannot add individual interpretation without authorization. Do not make live broadcasts.

Tianjin Propaganda Department: Editors and reporters for city TV stations, radio stations, newspapers, and new media work units, including announcers and anchors, must absolutely not privately post to Weibo or WeChat friend circles about the explosions.

Internet Propaganda Office of [Province Withheld]: Top Priority—Remove news and images from the explosions in Tianjin’s Tanggu Open Economic Zone from headlines and recommendations. Tidy up posts. Do not post articles that are not from Xinhua. If such articles have already been posted, please push them to the back of the stage. (August 13, 2015) [Chinese]

A warehouse explosion in the port area of Tianjin on Wednesday left at least 50 dead and more than 700 injured. While most discussion on social media has proceeded unhindered, some content including rumors and criticisms of the response has been curtailed. One target of the censors, BBC Monitoring reports, was online disgust at the apparent obliviousness of a local TV station which continued to broadcast Korean dramas throughout the immediate aftermath:

“I was watching Tianjin TV at 8am and they were still showing ‘First Wives’ Club’ – I could barely breathe! I feel as though this country’s media… shows an inhumane response to emergencies,” posted “Xing zhi a fei” on Weibo.

[…] User “Guilin’s Xu Chunsheng” commented that the story “should be constantly updated, not grinding to a halt. What is the media doing?”

Another Weibo user, “Ying Tian Lan” called the TV station “disgraceful”.

Netizen “Xinjing Ziran Hao” said it was as though the explosion had “shaken the world, and yet Tianjin TV has not even felt a tremor.” [Source]

In a now-removed post, however, Weibo user @SONGPAO claimed that the station had actually sent 100 staff out to report, but was barred from using any of its own material and had to turn it over to CCTV.

The state-owned Global Times acknowledged such protests, but insisted that “the idea that [local authorities] wanted to tone down the reporting and even cover it up must be eliminated”:

At the start of the incident, the public directed major complaints and accusations toward the Tianjin government and media for the slow and inadequate reporting of the explosion. For example, Tianjin TV was still broadcasting Korean soap operas 10 hours after the incident. Such chaos is unavoidable at the beginning of a sudden crisis. The Tianjin government must take critical feedback and ensure it can release accurate and timely information. The idea that they wanted to tone down the reporting and even cover it up must be eliminated.

Despite these doubts and criticisms, generally speaking, the government has dealt with the crisis efficiently and in a transparent manner. Up till this afternoon, the fire is still burning, and the priority should be rescuing the injured and extinguishing the blaze as soon as possible. Now the whole incident has been put under the scrutiny of the media, and any further information will be given to the public through government and media channels. The public’s right to know needs to be defended and reinforced while the government deals with the disaster. The public can have a better understanding about what kinds of demands for information at the beginning of a disaster are appropriate, and what information still needs time to be published. Once the government and the public can reach an agreement on this, controversies will be greatly reduced. [Source]

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that journalists from several foreign and domestic organizations say they have been prevented from covering the incident. State news agency Xinhua, though, has focused on one particular claim by CNN. The network reported that Chinese authorities had interrupted its reporting outside a Tianjin hospital, but later admitted that those who intervened were “upset friends and relatives of victims killed and injured,” as The New York Times’ Andrew Jacobs had previously stated. Earlier tweets claiming official obstruction have now been deleted. Xinhua’s Chen Shilei argued in an op-ed that the retraction was inadequate:

In an age marked with virus-like dissemination of information, the inaccurate reporting about the incident, for whatever purpose, has exerted negative influence on China’s image, with TV audience, Twitter followers and netizens questioning what was behind the blocking of reporting.

From the perspective of news ethics, reporters should respect the injured and families of victims when they cover a deadly incident like the Tianjin blasts, in which at least 44 people were killed and 521 hospitalized. This is what the reporter Will Repley [sic] was trying to do, when he agreed to stop recording after several men asked him to.

[…] However, how could the anchor easily conclude that it was Chinese “security and officials” who stopped Repley from reporting? How could he easily misinterpret the blocking of reporting as a usual case in China? The reason is inseparable from CNN’s deep-rooted prejudice against China.

It needs to point out that this is not the first time that CNN has made prejudiced reporting on China. From the March 14 Tibet riots in 2008 to the Kunming terror attacks in March 2014, the CNN has had an array of records of inaccurately reporting these incidents. [Source]

and many ordinary Chinese accused CNN and other media organizations of distorted coverage of the 2008 Tibetan unrest. The network denied these charges, but did issue an apology for commentator Jack Cafferty’s description of the government as “basically the same bunch of goons and thugs they’ve been for the last 50 years.” In 2013, Global Times urged CNN to “have some self respect” after it published an op-ed asking whether a jeep attack on Tiananmen Square “was a well-prepared terrorist act or a hastily assembled cry of desperation from a people on the extreme margins of the Chinese state’s monstrous development machine.”

chinadialogue, meanwhile, highlights public debate over the transparency and integrity of environmental impact assessments in the wake of the blast:

An environmental impact assessment for Ruihai, produced in 2013 by the Tianjin Academy of Environmental Protection Sciences, shows that the majority of products to be stored in the company’s warehouse were dangerous or flammable.

These presented environmental risks during transportation or storage, the assessment added, but it concluded that the risk of an accident was within acceptable limits.

As part of that report, 130 questionnaires were issued in the surrounding area; 100% of respondents said the site was suitable; around 52% were supportive of the proposed project’s measures for environmental protection; while the remainder expressed no opinion. However it is unclear who these respondents were.

Since Wednesday’s explosion many local residents have told media they never saw any questionnaires. In many cases around China, the public have objected strongly to chemical plants near their homes. [Source]

For more on China’s “public opinion guidance” in the wake of major tragedies, read a recent essay by China Media Project’s David Bandurski, via CDT.

真Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source.