China Tightens Media Limits Loosened After Sichuan Earthquake

Mark Magnier reports in the Los Angeles Times:

The propaganda ministry and the State Council, China’s Cabinet, have issued directives to state-run news media outlining forbidden topics. Among them: questions about school construction, whether government rescue efforts lagged and whether Beijing knew in advance that the earthquake would happen but failed to warn people. Although the latter issue is scientifically questionable, it has nonetheless transfixed millions of Chinese Internet users.

The tough stance, which has included crackdowns on public protest, reflects in part the changing nature of the story surrounding the magnitude 7.9 temblor that left about 70,000 people dead in Sichuan province, media analysts say.

In the first weeks after the quake, the main narrative was the heroic efforts of rescue workers, the plight of trapped victims and the shock to a nation. The positive story line helped unify the people and helped humanize China’s image abroad when it was struggling to recover from criticism of its crackdown in Tibet and surrounding regions.

Now, however, the disaster has entered a more politically complex stage as national and foreign criticism mounts over issues of corruption, embezzlement and the government’s response to the large number of schools that collapsed.

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