Beijing Reins In Quake Coverage

Tom Mitchell reports in the Financial Times, from Dujiangyan:

The Chinese government has instructed domestic media outlets to rein in coverage of the schools that collapsed during last month’s devastating earthquake in Sichuan province, journalists familiar with the directive have told the Financial Times.

A notice was sent to media outlets across the country late last week, following a spate of reports about the collapses that killed thousands of students. Their parents blame sub-standard construction and government negligence, if not corruption, especially in areas where schools were the only structures to fail catastrophically.

Last week Southern Weekend, an investigative weekly newspaper from Guangzhou, Guangdong province, ran a report on the schools issue. Its exposé included an interview with the deputy head of Sichuan’s education department, Lin Qiang, who said the collapses could not be blamed on the quake alone.

“It is usually easier for us to write reports critical of local governments elsewhere,” said a journalist who has been sent to the quake zone from Guangdong and was advised of the government’s directive by his editors. He and other journalists asked that neither they nor their newspapers be named, because of the sensitivity of the issue.

In fact, the unprecedented amount of domestic coverage of the quake also reflects the authorities’ strategic control. But their attempts to control the coverage started almost immediately after the earthquake. Here is an example, from a working Chinese journalist’s blog, posted on May 15, translated by CDT:

€€This is the first time I have violated my professional rules, and publicized unpublished interview materials from my work on my blog. Because the magazine I am working for is a weekly magazine, publication is not timely enough. More importantly, now the earthquake reporting is very strictly controlled. In my media group, all relevant articles must pass the Propaganda Department’s review, and any slightly disturbing content will not get published.

But as far as the school construction quality issue is concerned, it is questionable how much the central or local authorities can really suppress it anymore. It has been in too many domestic media reports already, not to mention the blogosphere.

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