Lessons in Media Management from Weng’an

While officials in the Guizhou town of Weng’an let rioters run rampant in major protests over the death of a local girl earlier this month, they appear to be doing quite a good job keeping journalists under control. ESWN translates the account, published on yWeekend, of a China News Weekly reporter who went to Weng’an to report on the riot aftermath (h/t Shanghaiist):

At about two to three kilometers from Weng’an county, there is a toll booth on the main road to Weng’an county city. Inside, there is a notice in red with the big letters: “Welcome Chinese and foreign media reporters to come and gather news.” The reception and mobile telephone numbers were listed underneath.

But we did not dial those contact numbers. Based upon our previous practice in investigative journalism, we entered the city and set out to find the principals directly.

On the streets of Weng’an, there were patrols wearing red armbands. At the major street intersections, armed policemen stood guard. There were banners everywhere that said: “Thank you for your hard work, media reporter friends!” These banners sounded very warm and friendly, showing a certain posture by the local authorities.

But when we wanted to interview people, we had to produce a special press pass. This pass is issued by the 6.28 Incident Management Team. When a reporter applies with the team, he receives a special press pass. Without this pass, many people (especially officials) will refuse to be interviewed.

At first, we did not go through this process. Without the pass, we ran into many obstacles during our interviewing. We arrived at Yuhua town where the family of the deceased lived, and the local cadres questioned and blocked us repeatedly. Our press cards issued by the General Administration of Press and Publications were not good enough.

The reporter then goes on to document local officials use of “50 Cent Party“-style online opinion management:

Certain posts that counterattacked the rumors began to appear on the Internet. These posts came mostly from the “Group for policy discussion and law publicity” in Weng’an county. More than a dozen teachers who were familiar with the Internet were selected and transferred from the county schools and they acted systematically and purposefully to dispel rumors and calm people down with comments on the Internet.

The leader of this publicity team is the Guizhou provincial party committee publicity department deputy director Zhou Xiaoyun. According to the presentation of a local official, the principal mission of this publicity team is to organize personnel to make Internet comments, “and use the Guizhou media to affect national opinion.” Since the government website office was destroyed by arson, the workers worked on the second floor of the Telecom Building. The dozen or so workers from the relevant county departments and schools worked daily to collect information and follow up with comments on inaccurate information.

An official with the emergency handling command center also explained, “Apart from Weng’an county, all other counties and cities in the Southern Guizhou Prefecture assigned 5 Internet commentators each. Each day, they consulted the Xinhua news reports and other recently published information, and then they use a variety of flexible methods to guide Internet discussion.”

In other words, yet more evidence Chinese authorities have taken “media management” beyond mere censorship.


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